Those plastic airport security trays—so convenient, so light ... so filled with germs and bacteria. So says a new study by British and Finnish scientists who found that plastic checkpoint trays harbor more viruses than any other Helsinki Airport surface, including toilet surfaces, reports the New York Times. The top virus found was rhinovirus, which gives people the common cold, followed by the influenza A virus. Traces cropped up on half the security trays and also appeared at store payment terminals, stair rails, passport-check counters, and areas where children play, per a release. "The presence of microbes in the environment of an airport has not been investigated previously," says a virology expert involved in the study.
The upshot: Help prevent infections by washing your hands with soap and warm water and coughing into a handkerchief, sleeve, or tissue, says study co-author Jonathan Van-Tam. "These simple precautions can help prevent pandemics and are most important in crowded areas like airports that have a high volume of people traveling to and from many different parts of the world," he adds. A Vanderbilt University professor agrees it's easy to get germs from luggage trays, where people place items they've breathed on, but tells CBS News that the flu and cold are mostly disseminated via the air. The study is part of a bigger European project about how airports and other traffic centers spread infections. (Meanwhile, STDs just set a new US record.)