According to a new study conducted at the UK’s University of Nottingham and the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare, airports are crawling with germs. This is something can safely be assumed for any place where large groups of people gather, but some of the specific findings were especially disturbing.
The study, published in the BMC Infectious Diseases journal, details some of the most germ-filled places in airports, finding that the plastic security trays are ground zero for the spread of germs amongst passengers.
Researchers closely monitored the Helsinki-Vantaa airport in Finland during the winter of 2016, constantly testing for germs on surfaces through the building. They found evidence that at least 10% of the surfaces in the airport tested positive for viruses and germs, which is a surprisingly low number considering the rest of the study.
Some germ hotspots listed in the study were passport checking counters, shop payment terminals, staircase rails, children’s play areas and of course, the security area.
Oddly enough, the restrooms in the airport were much cleaner the security areas and other parts of the building.
Jonathan Van Tram, Professor of Health Protection at the University of Nottingham, said that this is a sign that awareness about hotspot areas can reduce the spread of germs.
“This study supports the case for improved public awareness of how viral infections spread. 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,” Tram says.
Niina Ikonen from the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare, who also worked on the study, said that this new information could help inspire better building design in the future.
“The results also provide new ideas for technical improvements in airport design and refurbishment,” Ikonen said.
As a solution to this problem, the researchers suggested that hotpots be sanitized more often, with more opportunities available for people to wash their hands.
“Hand sanitization opportunities where intense, repeat touching of surfaces takes place such as immediately before and after security screening,” were suggested in the conclusion of the study.
The security areas should receive extra special attention from the airport staff since these are areas that passengers have no choice but to pass through.
Earlier this year, a number of doctors began advising that travelers change their socks after passing through airport security because it could be very easy to pick up fungus and viruses from steeping on the same mats that millions of other people have stepped on without shoes.
Dr. Michael J. Trepal, vice president for academic affairs and dean at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine,
“In a high-traffic area, the number of people per hour going through a checkpoint is greater at an airport than at a health club, and theoretically, the more you expose the skin to exogenous pathogens, the more likely you are to be infected. In some cases, you could realistically walk 30 to 40 feet without shoes,” Trepal said.
“It just goes to good bodily hygiene, like washing your hands. Try to minimize barefoot contact with foreign surfaces, and try to wear socks [inside your shoes] if you want an extra level of precaution,” he added.
According to a 2015 study published by Travelmath, you should be careful of your surroundings once you get on the plane as well. That study found that airplanes were filled with germs, with some of the worst areas being the tray table and the air vents.