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Airport Security Bins Have More Cold Germs than Toilets, Study Finds

Airport security bins could be hotspots for emerging pandemics, according to a new study from an international team of researchers.

Airports might have a new threat to passenger safety -- security bins. A new study found that airport security bins actually contain more cold and flu-causing germs than most toilet seats. 

Researchers from the University of Nottingham collaborated with the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare on the study. They collected samples from frequently used surfaces on three separate occasions at the Helsinki-Vantaa airport in Finland. 

Swabbing surfaces for information

The investigation was recently published in full in a recent issue of the journal BMC Infectious Diseases. It documented the findings of the team after swabbing the plastic bins at the Helsinki Airport taken during the winter of 2015-2016 -- peak flu season.

Four of the eight samples contained the rhinovirus or adenovirus responsible for causing colds or flu-like symptoms. 

The lead authors of the article concluded after further study that the screening trays "appear commonly contaminated" and that they're now one of the most likely places a person could catch a potentially harmful virus. 

Given the volume of foot traffic going through airport security each day, the study itself might not be that shocking. In the United States alone, roughly 1.73 million passengers fly each day, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Professor of Health Protection Jonathan Van Tam led the researchers from the University of Nottingham's School of Medicine. 

"This study supports the case for improved public awareness of how viral infections spread," Van Tam said.

Taking preparations against harmful germs

However, the researchers assured everyone that travelers are not lost causes when it comes to touching airport bins. Basic sanitary precautions will help reduce risks of catching a cold or flu after dealing with airport security bins.

"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," Van Tam noted in a statement. "These simple precautions can help prevent pandemics and are most important in crowded areas like airports that have a high volume of people traveling to and from many different parts of the world.”

Niina Ikonen is a virology expert with the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare. Ikonen echoed Van Tam's statements, noting it could be bigger than just the safety of a few people.

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The researchers noted in their study that airports could serve as a risk zone for an "emerging pandemic threat." And the threat could be higher in countries where passengers are forced to empty their snack and food stuff into a plastic bin while going through security.

“The presence of microbes in the environment of an airport has not been investigated previously," Ikonen said. "The new findings support preparedness planning for controlling the spread of serious infectious diseases in airports. The results also provide new ideas for technical improvements in airport design and refurbishment.”

However, the researchers concluded that airports can do several things to offset the chances of widespread illnesses. They could offer hand sanitizer to travelers prior to boarding the plane as well as after the security checkpoint. Airport security teams should also be more diligent about disinfecting the bins. 

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