Silhouette of young family with luggage walking at airport, girl showing something through the window

As coronavirus spreads across the globe via infected air travelers, authorities are attempting to contain the outbreak and avoid a pandemic. The key to this containment could be soap and water, says the Society for Risk Analysis in a press release.

An increase in proper hand hygiene among air travelers has the potential to reduce a pandemic by 24 to 69 percent, according to the study "Hand-hygiene mitigation strategies against global disease spreading through the air transportation network.”

The researchers also identified 10 airports central to the global air-transportation network and found that pandemic risk could be reduced by up to 37 percent just by improving handwashing at those locations. The 10 airports are not just locations that see large volumes of passengers, they also connect travelers with destinations in all parts of the world.

The airports include: London Heathrow, Los Angeles International, John F. Kennedy International, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Dubai International, Frankfurt Airport, Hong Kong International, Beijing Capital International, San Francisco International and Amsterdam Schiphol.

"Airports, and airplanes, are highly infectious because they are close, confined areas with large, mobile populations," says Christos Nicolaides, Ph.D., lead author, University of Cyprus and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). "Viruses are spread through bodily fluids, so keeping hands clean at major transport hubs is central to control spread."

Airports also contain numerous highly contaminated surfaces that are frequently touched by travelers, including self-service check-in screens, gate bench armrests, water fountain buttons, door handles, seats and tray tables. In addition to increasing the frequency at which public areas are cleaned and sanitized, using proper coughing etiquette, wearing face masks and proper hand hygiene practices are the most common actions that can be adopted by air travelers.

Currently, analyses show that, at most, one in five people have clean hands at any given moment. If hand cleanliness at all airports increased from 20 percent to 30 percent, by increasing the capacity or awareness of handwashing, the impact of a potential infectious disease would have a global impact that is 24 percent smaller.