Illness-causing bacteria can survive on surfaces inside airplanes for days or even up to a week, a new study shows.
The researchers received six different types of materials — armrest, plastic tray table, metal toilet button, window shade, seat pocket cloth, and leather — from a major airline. The two types of bacteria were placed on these surfaces and exposed to typical conditions found inside passenger aircraft.
MRSA survived the longest on seat pocket cloth (168 hours), while E. coli O157:H7 survived longest on armrest material (96 hours), according to the study that was to be presented at the American Society for Microbiology's annual meeting in Boston.
"Many air travelers are concerned about the risks of catching a disease from other passengers given the long time spent in crowded air cabins," study author Kiril Vaglenov, of Auburn University, said in a society news release. "This report describes the results of our first step in investigating this potential problem."
"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 Vaglenov.
The findings could help lead to new ways to protect airline passengers from harmful bacteria, including those that cause tuberculosis, the researchers said.
"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," Vaglenov said.
Research presented at medical meetings is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
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