You don’t need me to tell you that the worst part of traveling is the hassle of security. There you are, having to disrobe and walk barefoot over the filthy floor, all while putting all of your prized possessions into security trays and getting body scanned by a machine—only to then cap things off by having security give you a hard time because one of your toothpaste is slightly above 3.4 ounces.
But now there’s another reason to dread the entire process, and germaphobes should take note of it.
A new study published in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases has determined that these plastic bins are absolutely ridden with disgusting bacteria.
Researchers at the University of Nottingham and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare collected surface and air samples at three different times during the peak period of seasonal influenza back in 2015 and 2016, in Helsinki Airport, and found that “of the surfaces tested, plastic security screening trays appeared to pose the highest potential risk.”
Which means these bins have more germs than children’s play areas, kiosk touchscreens, handrails, and, yep, even toilets.
Half of the bins were found to carry a virus that can cause respiratory infections, and another half carried a virus that can cause flu-like symptoms.
“We found the highest frequency of respiratory viruses on plastic trays used in security check areas for depositing hand-carried luggage and personal items,” the article reads. “These boxes typically cycle with high frequency to subsequent passengers, and are typically seized with a wide palm surface area and strong grip.”
To solve the problem, the researchers are recommending that airports offer hand sanitizer to passengers who get through the security checkpoint, and disinfect the trays more frequently. But until they do, you should consider washing your hands after going through the line and bringing a bunch of hand sanitizer yourself (though, clearly, not more than 3.4 ounces worth).
For what’s it’s worth, while the bins may be the most germ-ridden item at the airport, they’re not the only ones that can make you sick. A virus that can causes a common cold was found in half of the samples for the payment terminal at the pharmacy, in a third of the desks and glass dividers at passport control, and in 67 percent of a plastic dog toy in the children’s play area.
The results have led the researchers to conclude that airports are a risk zone for an “emerging pandemic threat.” So, you know, no reason to panic or anything.
For more hygienic news you need to know, don’t miss Why You Should Never Use a Bathroom Hand Dryer.
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