(SKY NEWS) – While germs are known to spread in airplanes, plastic security trays have been found to pose the greatest health threat at airports.
In a study published in the BioMed Central Infectious Diseases journal, Finnish and British researchers tested swabs from surface samples of plastic trays at Helsinki Airport.
They were taken on three different occasions during the peak of the 2015-2016 flu season.
Four of the eight samples contained the rhinovirus or adenovirus – which cause cold-like symptoms.
Pandemic experts also found evidence of viruses on 10% of airport surfaces tested – which also included shop payment terminals, staircase rails, passport checking counters and children’s play areas.
But the highest level of viruses were found on the plastic trays that circulate along the passenger queue at the hand luggage X-ray checkpoint.
The lead authors of the study concluded that the screening trays “appear commonly contaminated” and are one of the surfaces where passengers are most likely to contract harmful viruses.
“We found the highest frequency of respiratory viruses on plastic trays used in security check areas for depositing hand-carried luggage and personal items,” the study says.
“These boxes typically cycle with high frequency to subsequent passengers, and are typically seized with a wide palm surface area and strong grip.”
It concluded: “Security check trays appear to pose the highest potential risk and are used by virtually all embarking 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.”
However, many cleaning agents, including household antibacterial wipes, are able to rapidly reduce the risk of transmitting the harmful viruses.
Professor of health protection Jonathan Van-Tam, from the University of Nottingham, said: “This study supports the case for improved public awareness of how viral infections spread.
“People can help to minimise contagion by hygienic hand washing and coughing into a handkerchief, tissue or sleeve at all times – but especially in public places.”
Virology expert Niina Ikonen added that the results “provide new ideas for technical improvements in airport design and refurbishment.”