Airport security trays: a health hazard

Luggage at airport security check

A recent study called ‘Deposition of respiratory virus pathogens on frequently touched surfaces at airports’, has found that plastic trays at airport security have more respiratory viruses than public toilets. Samples were collected weekly at three different times of day, from various points along the passenger journey, at Helsinki-Vantaa airport over the course of three weeks in 2016.

Of the 90 surface samples tested, security trays were found to pose the highest potential risk of viral contamination. Respiratory viruses detected on the trays included deno, influenza A, rhino and human corona OC43. The study said that as the trays are used by virtually all passengers, ‘they have the potential to be especially problematic if a severe pathogen with an indirect transmission mechanism were to pose a threat for international spread’.

The study’s recommendations for stopping the spread of disease at airport security areas were for airports to offer hand sanitisation with alcohol handrub before and after security screening and increase the frequency of tray disinfection. “Although this would not eliminate all viruses on hands, (e.g. alcohol gels have been found to be less effective than hand-washing for rhinovirus), it is effective for many viruses, including influenza,” the study said.

The study also stated that the rise in air travel has increased the likelihood of infectious diseases spreading rapidly between countries and continents and that the findings stress the need to investigate the role of various traffic hubs in transmission of respiratory viruses.