Security checkpoints may pose infection risk

Decorative photo of travelers going through security screening at airport

DALLAS – Nov. 21, 2018 – Research suggests that surfaces at airport security stations – specifically the plastic trays everyone is required to place their personal items in – are potentially teeming with germs and bacteria. And flu season only adds to the potential for spreading any conditions through recycled use of the trays – handled by millions of passengers across the globe as they drop shoes, laptops, luggage, and other items into them to clear X-ray scanners prior to boarding flights.

“These organisms are resilient,” says Dr. Trish Perl, Chief of Infectious Disease at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “Many pathogens can live on innate surfaces for days to months, hence the importance of cleansing your hands in case they become contaminated; a quick rub with alcohol hand gel can interrupt the transmission cycle.”

Flu shots, hand hygiene, and respiratory etiquette can go a long way in avoiding travel troubles, Dr. Perl says.

“Security checkpoints are like other public places where there are many people, some of whom are sick and potentially coughing,” she says. “We always advocate that everyone gets flu vaccines, coughs into their sleeves, practices good hand hygiene, and stays home if you or someone in your traveling party is sick.”

The European-based study, published in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases, found traces of rhinovirus – the source of the common cold – and the influenza A virus on at least half of the security trays the researchers checked, more than any other private or public surfaces tested. In fact, the research team reported that none of the viruses were found on any of the airports’ public restroom surfaces, which are routinely disinfected and cleaned several times a day.

Dr. Perl holds the Jay P. Sanford Professorship in Infectious Diseases.

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 22 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 15 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The faculty of more than 2,700 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in about 80 specialties to more than 105,000 hospitalized patients, nearly 370,000 emergency room cases, and oversee approximately 2.4 million outpatient visits a year.