Study reveals potential role of airports in disease transmission

Study reveals multiple touchpoints that pose a potential health risk for passengers.

A study conducted by researchers in Finland has revealed that there are multiple ‘touchpoints’ in an airport that pose a potential health risk for passengers.

The study was conducted in February 2016 (Finland’s peak influenza season) at the country’s largest airport, Helsinki-Vantaa, which served nearly 18 million travelers in 2017.

Researchers mapped out the pathways used by most travelers in the airport. This determined which surfaces were most likely to be touched and helped narrow their investigation.

Ninety surfaces in the airport were identified as high-touch areas and were swabbed three times per day during peak travel periods. To ensure the validity of the test, the researchers made sure the sample areas had not been cleaned by custodial workers before testing. They discovered that 10 per cent of study surfaces hosted at least one respiratory virus.

Most viruses were found on the following surfaces:

  • A plastic toy in the children’s play area
  • The plastic containers used in the security checkpoint area
  • Handrails on stairs and escalators
  • Buttons on the payment terminal at the airport pharmacy
  • Desks and glass dividers at passport counters

The types of viruses uncovered, included:

  • Rhinovirus (40 per cent of surface samples)
  • Coronavirus (30 per cent of surface samples)
  • Adenovirus (20 per cent of surface samples)
  • Influenza A (10 per cent of air samples)

Brad Evans, chief executive of Optisolve, a surface assessment technology that identifies the location of microbial contaminants on surfaces, said the test revealed multiple touchpoints in an airport that pose a potential health risk for passengers.

“We are seeing similar results using imaging technologies in hospitals, schools, offices, restaurants, and even food manufacturing sites,” he said

Source: Niina Ikonen et al., “Deposition of respiratory virus pathogens on frequently touched surfaces at airports,” BMC Infectious Diseases, August 29, 2018, https://bmcinfectdis.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12879-018-3150-5

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