This is not a big surprise but timely information given the recent discovery of MERS-CoV in the United States. A paper released at the American Society for Microbiology this week noted that disease-causing bacteria can linger on surfaces commonly found in airplane cabins for days, even up to a week.
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 this study researchers 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. The research showed 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 both pose a risk of transmission via skin contact.
The research will be continuing and they currently have ongoing trials with other human pathogens including the tuberculosis bacteria.
Travel in planes often? Wash hands frequently, don’t touch your face, clean your area when possible (rubbing hard surfaces like arm rests or tray tables with hand sanitizer) and use hand sanitizer.