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Airport Security Checkpoint Trays May Carry Respiratory Risk: Study

More than half of the plastic trays at airport security checkpoint tested positive for respiratory viruses, according to the findings of a recent study. 

Research from Finland found that many of the surfaces at airports pose a risk of spreading viral respiratory infections, such as the flu, with security checkpoint trays having the highest amounts of viruses found on them. The findings were published  August 29, in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases.

International and national travel pose a risk of flu transmission and other respiratory ailments for travelers. For that reason, researchers tested surfaces in the Helsinki-Vantaa airport in Finland for respiratory viruses during peak flu season during the winter of 2015–2016.

Researchers focused their investigation on the presence of respiratory viruses in the passenger area of the airport. Surface and air samples were collected weekly at three different time points during peak flu season.

Surfaces were tested for 10 different respiratory viruses, including influenza A and B, respiratory syncytial virus, adenovirus, rhinovirus and coronaviruses (229E, HKU1, NL63 and OC43).

At least one respiratory virus was found on 10% of surfaces sampled and in air samples, researchers noted. About 67% of surfaces in the children’s play area also tested positive for flu viruses. Roughly half of the buttons on shop payment terminals also tested positive, 14% of handrail stairs, and 33% of desks and glass partitions at passport control areas.

Surprisingly, no respiratory viruses were found on toilet surfaces.

However, plastic security checkpoint trays posed the greatest threat of transmission, with more than 50% of trays testing positive for respiratory viruses. Plastic trays had the highest virus levels found of the surfaces tested at the airport.

“Of the surfaces tested, plastic security screening trays appeared to pose the highest potential risk, and handling these is almost inevitable for all embarking passengers,” the researchers wrote.

Researchers emphasized the trays posed the greatest threat because those are times that are touched by every single airport visitor. Comparatively, not every airport visitor will visit the children’s play area. This allows the proliferation and spread of respiratory viruses.

The majority of viruses found, about 40% were rhinovirus. Roughly 30% of surfaces also tested positive for coronavirus.

Researchers said the findings should be used to help educate the public about how viral infections spread. They also recommended campaigns to emphasize proper hand washing and covering a cough with a tissue or sleeve to reduce the risk of transmission.

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