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More viruses than in the toilet: plastic boxes at airports are heavily contaminated with pathogens

More viruses than in the toilet: plastic boxes at airports are heavily contaminated with pathogens


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Why is there a danger of plastic containers at airports?

Researchers have now found that plastic containers used for security checks at airports are more susceptible to so-called respiratory viruses than public toilets.

In their current investigation, scientists from the National Institute for Health and Welfare and the University of Eastern Finland found that plastic containers used in airport security checks are often contaminated with viruses. The doctors published the results of their study in the English-language journal "BMC Infectious Diseases".

Where did the samples come from in the study?

The study was based on the analysis of a total of 90 surface samples and four air samples, which were collected at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport within three weeks in 2016. These samples were taken weekly at three different times of the day from different points along the typical routes of passengers, from handrails from escalators, buttons from elevators to handles and toys in the children's play area.

Four out of eight samples from containers were contaminated with viruses

Of the samples tested, containers had the highest potential risk of viral contamination in security checks, with four out of eight samples tested positive. Respiratory viruses detected on the containers included, for example, influenza A, rhinoviruses and the human coronavirus OC43. In comparison, the 42 samples from areas of the public toilets at the airport contained no detectable respiratory viruses.

Containers at security gates support the spread of viruses

The plastic containers on security gates are used by practically all passengers, which can prove to be particularly problematic, since a dangerous pathogen with an indirect transmission mechanism poses a particularly great risk if it is spread internationally via airports. In total, at least one respiratory virus was detected in nine surface samples, the researchers explain.

How can the risk be contained?

The study's authors made recommendations for curbing the spread of disease in airport security areas. The risk in security areas could be reduced by offering hand disinfection with an alcohol gel before and after the security check and by additionally increasing the frequency of container disinfection. Safety containers are often not routinely disinfected, the researchers emphasize. Although disinfection would not eliminate all hand viruses (e.g. alcohol gels have been shown to be less effective than hand washing for rhinoviruses), alcohol gels are effective on many other fours, including influenza.

Rising air traffic promotes the spread of dangerous viruses

According to the study, the increase in air traffic has increased the likelihood of rapid spread of infectious diseases between countries or continents. The rapid spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) from Hong Kong to several countries within a short period of time in 2003 served as an example. The results underscore the need to investigate the role of various transport hubs in the transmission of respiratory viruses, including airports and ports and subway stations, the experts say. (as)

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