September 05, 2018
2 min read

Airport security trays carry respiratory viruses

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Security trays at a Helsinki airport contained numerous respiratory viruses, researchers reported in BMC Infectious Diseases. Airport toilets, on the other hand, showed no evidence of the viruses, they said.

“The continuous growth in air travel increases the likelihood of rapid spread of infectious diseases between countries and continents,” Niina Ikonen, senior researcher in the department of health security at the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, and colleagues wrote. “Symptomatic and asymptomatic respiratory tract infections are common among passengers, with potential for transmission to fellow passengers during pre-embarkation and travel, or after arrival at destination, via multiple modes of transmission, including airborne, droplet and contact transmission.”

Ikonen and colleagues studied the presence of respiratory viruses in areas frequented by passengers at Helsinki-Vantaa airport, the main airport of Finland, which handled 18.9 million passengers in 2017, they said. They collected surface and air samples each week at three points during the peak of influenza season in Finland in February 2016, using nylon swabs to collect surface samples. They used real-time PCR to test for influenza A and B viruses, respiratory syncytial virus, adenovirus, rhinovirus and coronaviruses.

In all, they collected 90 surface samples and four air samples. They detected at least one respiratory virus in nine out of 90 of surfaces tested, including four of eight security trays (50%), a plastic toy dog in a children’s play area (detected in two of three swabs, 67%), buttons on a payment terminal at a pharmacy (one of two swabs, 50%), a stair handrail (one of seven swabs, 14%) and a desk and divider glass at a passport control point (one of three swabs, 33%).

Airport luggage tray
Researchers discovered more respiratory viruses on airport security trays than airport bathroom toilets.
Source: Adobe Stock

None of the samples from toilets — including 14 samples each of the upper surface of the toilet bowl lid, button for flushing or door lock — tested positive for any respiratory virus.

“No respiratory viruses were detected in a considerable number of samples from the surfaces of toilets most commonly touched, which is not unexpected, as passengers may pay particular attention to limiting touch and to hand hygiene, in a washroom environment,” they wrote. “Moreover, we did not conduct tests for any enteric viruses.”

Rhinovirus was the most commonly identified respiratory virus, followed by coronavirus, adenovirus and influenza A. All four were detected on security trays.

“We found the highest frequency of respiratory viruses on plastic trays used in security check areas for depositing hand-carried luggage and personal items,” Ikonen and colleagues wrote. “These boxes typically cycle with high frequency to subsequent passengers and are typically seized with a wide palm surface area and strong grip.”

The researchers noted that risk for contact with respiratory viruses could be reduced by offering alcohol hand rub before and after security screening and increasing the frequency of tray disinfection. – by Bruce Thiel

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.