By Kim Smiley
With many bodies packed into a tight space and seemingly stale air, airplanes tend to bring out the inner germaphobe in many of us. And the latest research, especially if you just read the headlines, isn’t going to help. Researchers at the University of Auburn found that Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (commonly known as MRSA) and E. Coli can live for days on airplane surfaces.
The experiment involved sterilizing six surfaces found on airplanes (seat pocket, arm rest, leather seat, window shade, tray table and toilet handle), introducing MRSA and E. Coli bacteria to them and then measuring how long the bacteria survived. Typical conditions inside an airplane were stimulated and the bacteria were suspended in three different solutions (saline, simulated seat and simulated saliva) to replicated the environment inside an airplane. The survival times ranged from 8 to 2 days. This is a little scary, especially since an estimated 1-2 percent of people in the US may be carriers of these dangerous bacteria.
The good news, and there is good news, is that the surfaces where the bacteria lived the longest, the more porous surfaces such as the seat pocket, are the least likely surfaces to actually spread the contamination. The study also didn’t look into how much bacteria remained after the typical cleaning by airlines between flights, but the researchers plan to look into this in the future.
So what can you do to reduce the risk of illness if you have plans to travel on an airplane soon? The simplest thing you can do to protect yourself is to frequently wash your hands with soap or use hand sanitizer as well as avoid touching your face as much as possible. If you feel the need to take additional precautions, you can clean the areas around your seat with a disinfectant when you board the plane.
Airline cleaning procedures can also significantly impact the spread of illness. So the question is, how much do you trust the thoroughness of the cleaning performed by the airline? I think I may invest in a travel-size hand sanitizer before my next flight.
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