Airport Security Bins Carry More Viruses Than an Airport Toilet

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It’s no surprise that airports might not be the most hygienic places on earth. From bare feet in the security line to crowded terminal gates, there are plenty of viruses lingering around that you should be mindful of.

When it comes to the dirtiest parts of an airport, though, a new study found that the plastic bins at airport security checkpoints carry the most germs — even more than toilets.

A group of pandemic experts from the University of Nottingham and the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare swabbed a variety of the most-touched surfaces at the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport (HEL) in Finland during the winter of 2016 and found high concentrations of viruses. They published their findings in the BMC Infectious Disease Journal, and the results will have you packing extra hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes in your carryon.

Not only were the plastic bins crawling with viruses, the researchers also discovered evidence of viruses on 10% of all the surfaces they tested. These included shop payment terminals, staircase rails, passport checking counters, children’s play areas and in the air.

“The new findings support preparedness planning for controlling the spread of serious infectious diseases in airports. The results also provide new ideas for technical improvements in airport design and refurbishment,” said Niina Ikonen, a virology expert from the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare in a statement.

Rhinovirus, the virus that causes the common cold, was detected the most. The researchers also found traces of the influenza A virus. Swabs of toilet surfaces did not reveal any respiratory viruses.

“People can help to minimize contagion by hygienic hand washing and coughing into a handkerchief, tissue or sleeve at all times but especially in public places,” said Jonathan Van Tam, a Professor of Health Protection at the University’s School of Medicine in the statement. “These simple precautions can help prevent pandemics and are most important in crowded areas like airports that have a high volume of people travelling to and from many different parts of the world.”

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