A new study suggests airport security bins harbor viruses that can make you sick.
Researchers swabbed commonly touched surfaces at an airport in Finland during the 2015-2016 flu season.
They tested for viruses that cause respiratory illnesses like cold and flu.
The bathroom surfaces they tested showed none of the viruses.
Those gray, plastic airport security bins just might be the germiest thing you touch in an airport — at least when it comes to viruses that cause cold and flu.
The finding comes from a new study published August 29 in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases. For the study, researchers swabbed commonly touched surfaces at Helsinki-Vantaa airport in Finland during the peak of the 2015-2016 flu season. They tested all of the 90 samples for evidence of viruses that cause respiratory illness, including influenza A and rhinovirus, a cause of the common cold.
Interestingly, of the 14 samples taken from bathroom surfaces (the toilet lid, flush button, and lock on the inside of the stall), none tested positive for these respiratory viruses, possibly because passengers pay extra attention to hygiene when they’re in a bathroom environment, the authors wrote. (That doesn’t mean bathrooms are germ-free — they can be hotbeds of other harmful bugs like bacteria and viruses that infect the GI system.)
But of all the other surfaces tested (including elevator buttons, escalator handrails, kiosk touch screens, and more), it was plastic security bins that “appeared to pose the highest potential risk,” the authors wrote. Viruses were detected in four out of eight samples taken from the bins.
“Plastic security screening trays appear commonly contaminated,” the authors wrote, which is “consistent with security procedures being an obligatory step for all departing passengers, and that each security tray is rapidly recycled and potentially touched by several hundred passengers per day.”
The authors also pointed out that plastic is a non-porous material, and virus survival is “known to be prolonged” on these types of surfaces. They suggested offering hand sanitizer before and after security screening or more frequent bin disinfection as potential solutions.
The authors noted that their study was limited in part by its small number of samples.
Still, it’s a good reminder that illness-causing bugs can lurk on commonly touched surfaces. You can’t always avoid touching security bins and other surfaces when you travel, but there is a way to reduce your odds of getting sick. Research shows regular hand washing cuts your risk of developing a respiratory infection by 16%.
And using proper hand washing technique will remove the most germs possible, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
First, wet your hands with clean, running water (it can be hot or cold) and apply soap. Then lather, being sure not to miss the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. Next, scrub for at least 20 seconds — sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice through as a timer. Finally, rinse well and air dry or use a paper towel.
If you don’t have access to clean running water and soap, you can use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. They aren’t as good as hand washing when it comes to germ removal, and they don’t eliminate all types of germs, the CDC says, but they can help in a pinch.