Friday, May 23, 2014

Harmful Bacteria Are Frequent Flyers in Aircraft Cabins


How far does the average airliner travel in a week? How many cities? How many continents? How many passengers might alight to spend several hours at a time in close confines with their fellow humans and, of course, the surfaces of the airplane itself? I have no idea either, but we could dream up some fairly insane upper limits, all converging on basically "all of them" and "tens of thousands."

It's hard to imagine a better vector for an outbreak of some communicable deadly disease than modern air travel. Well, it turns out that we had really no idea of just how powerful even that vector is. A study being presented this week at the American Society for Microbiology aimed to find out just how long harmful bacteria can survive in an airplane, chilling on a tray-table or armrest or toilet flush button, with the result being up to a full week. Our friend the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) won the contest, lasting 168 hours on the material of a seat-back pocket, while E. coli lingered for 96 hours on a passenger 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," said study co-author Kiril Vaglenov in a press statement.

Of course, cleaning things with any sort of attention could likely have cut those durations down quite a bit, but in the real world the going rate of aircraft cabin cleanliness is up for debate.

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