As the summer winds down and you're jetting off for the last warm-weather getaway, you might want to think about keeping some travel-sized hand sanitizer in your carry-on bag — especially if you're a germaphobe.
A study published last week in the BioMed Central Infectious Diseases journal found that airport security bins might have even more germs than, yikes, a toilet.
For the study, researchers tested swabs from the surfaces of airport bins (as well as the surfaces of toilet bowl lids) at Helsinki Airport. They collected samples weekly at three different points of time during peak flu season in 2015 and 2016. Out of the eight samples they took from the security bins, four contained traces of respiratory viruses like rhinovirus or adenovirus, which can cause cold-like symptoms.
Given that just about anyone who travels through an airport is forced through the security line and uses those bins (unless you're a celebrity who doesn't have to travel amongst the rest of us plebs), it makes sense that they'd be pretty germ-infected. That's especially true when you consider that most of us are probably too stressed about making a flight to wash our hands right before or after using them the way we would with a toilet.
"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 researchers concluded in the study. Because so many people use those bins with their already-germy hands, the researchers said, it's easier for those germs to cycle around.
While these results came from just one airport, it's probably safe to wager that there are germs on the surface of security bins at any airport you're passing through. It's not necessarily a surprise that airports can be a hotbed for infectious diseases (thus Airborne's entire marketing scheme), but the researchers suggested that we can cut down on the number of people who get sick while traveling if airports offer more hand sanitizers before and after security screenings.
That might sound like you're just doomed to get sick at an airport, but keep in mind that you're probably exposed to tons of germs on any given day, from your phone to the poles you hold on any subway or bus. As a general rule, try to wash your hands before eating with them, touching your lips with them, or doing anything that requires your hands to touch your mouth. That might not fix everything, but it's definitely a start — besides, no one wants to be sick on vacation.