Added Fear Of Flying: Disease-Causing Bacteria Linger On Plane Surfaces

(Doug/flickr)

(Doug/flickr)

Add this to your lengthy list of flying-related miseries: disease-causing bacteria that live on airplane armrests, tray tables, toilet buttons and other surfaces can linger on and on — for up to an entire week.

This new data, with its off-the-charts gross factor, comes from scientists attending the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology. From the news release:

In order for disease-causing bacteria to be transmitted from a cabin surface to a person, it must survive the environmental conditions in the airplane. In the study Kiril Vaglenov, of Auburn University who presented the data, and his colleagues tested the ability of two pathogens, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and E. coli O157:H7 to survive on surfaces commonly found in airplanes. They obtained six different types of material from a major airline carrier (armrest, plastic tray table, metal toilet button, window shade, seat pocket cloth, and leather), inoculated them with the bacteria and exposed them to typical airplane conditions.

MRSA lasted longest (168 hours) on material from the seat-back pocket while E. coli O157:H7 survived longest (96 hours) on the material from the armrest.

“Our data show that both of these bacteria can survive for days on the selected types of surfaces independent of the type of simulated body fluid present, and those pose a risk of transmission via skin contact,” says Vaglenov.

This research is laying the groundwork for important work to come.

“Our future plans include the exploration of effective cleaning and disinfection strategies, as well as testing surfaces that have natural antimicrobial properties to determine whether these surfaces help reduce the persistence of disease-causing bacteria in the passenger aircraft cabin,” says Vaglenov.

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  • Norman1980

    So what? Is the inside of a plan any more laden with “disease causing bacteria” than is the inside of a T trolley, my computer keyboard at work, or the dollar bills we handle when buying things? And I bet that the probability of actually contracting a disease from said surfaces is actually very low, assuming we following basic hygiene like hand washing and not putting our hands in our mouths.

    Meanwhile excessive use of antibiotics and anti-bacterial soap is causing the evolution of truly dangerous bacteria.

    • Geoffrey Feldman

      The answer to your question is: “Yes”, it is different. The other part that you didn’t think of is that an airplane is an enclosed environment where air is recirculated and in which people from all over the world, in countries with disease strains that our systems may not be used to are shedding bacteria. Ever hear of “Montezumas revenge”. Why not assume that science does have a purpose even if you don’t understand it?