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The germiest place in the airport might surprise you

Alison Ziemianski
December 11, 2018



We all know that airplanes are germ hotspots particularly the washrooms, tray tables, and armrests but what is the germiest place in an airport? The answer may surprise you.


With the holidays around the corner, the last thing you want is to get sick on your way to visit family, friends or for your vacation. Travel, especially with family and young children, can be stressful so it’s easy to understand how we might overlook some obvious germ hotspots and let our hand hygiene behaviours go when they should be on high alert.


The increase of international and national travel has made the rapid spread of infectious diseases possible. Little information is available on the role of major traffic hubs, such as airports, in the transmission of respiratory infections including seasonal influenza, but if you stop and think about it, it’s not difficult to see how large the risk could be.


To better understand this risk, researchers at the University of Nottingham and the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare (1) swabbed services around the Helsinki-Vantaa airport in 2016 during peak flu season to identify the places with the most germs.  


Researchers found evidence of viruses on 10 percent of the surfaces tested and most commonly on the plastic trays that are circulated at the security X-ray checkpoint. Cellphones, wallets, belts, shoes, purses, coats, scarves, and hats are just a small number of the various personal items that are placed in and taken out of each plastic tray countless times during a day -seems like an obvious place to swap germs now doesn’t it.


Other high-risk areas include self-check-in kiosks, passport control counters, water fountains, handrails on escalators, elevator buttons, and counters at stores within the terminals.  The most common virus found in the survey was rhinovirus, which causes the common cold but the swabs also picked up the influenza A virus, AKA the Flu.


Interestingly, in the samples taken no respiratory viruses were found on toilet surfaces. This does not account for other potentially harmful bacteria commonly found in washrooms but may be attributed to people using extra caution in obvious germ hotspots.


This is where simple precautions including frequent and proper handwashing as well as coughing and sneezing into a tissue or your sleeve are your best defense against pesky germs in crowded areas like airports. So next time you are traveling toss a travel size bottle of hand sanitizer into your carry-on and clean your hands. Be sure to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 30 seconds when you are in the washroom, as clean hands will not only help you STAY HEALTHY on your travels but also others around you.


In summary, don't forget to:


  1. Always wash your hands when they are dirty, after contact with high touch surfaces and before eating.
  2. Do not cough into hands, aim into your elbow, not your hand.
  3. Do not sneeze into hands, use a tissue or aim into your elbow, not your hand.
  4. Keep your fingers out of your eyes, nose, and mouth!






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