Bacteria linger up to a week inside airplanes
Bacteria can remain on certain surfaces inside airplanes for up to 1 week, according to data from a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.
MRSA lasted the longest: 168 hours, or 1 week, on material typically found on the seat-back pocket. Escherichia coli O157:H7 lasted for 96 hours, or 4 days, on material found on armrests.
“Many air travelers are concerned about the risks of catching a disease from other passengers, given the long time spent in crowded air cabins,” Kiril Vaglenov, a graduate student in the department of biological sciences at Auburn University, said in a press release. “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.”
Vaglenov and colleagues inoculated samples of the rubber armrest, metal toilet handle, plastic tray, plastic window shade, leather seat and seat pocket cloths with concentrations of MRSA and E. coli mixed with simulated sweat and/or saliva. After exposing the samples to typical airplane conditions (24°C with 20% humidity), they determined the survival of MRSA by performing plate counts and used quantitative PCR with propidium monoazide treatment to evaluate the persistence of E. coli O157:H7.
MRSA survived longest on the pocket cloth and shortest on the metal toilet handle. It also survived longest when suspended in phosphate-buffered saline vs. the simulated sweat or saliva. E. coli survived longest on the armrest, followed by the tray table (72 hours) and the toilet handle (48 hours). The cells also survived longest when suspended in the phosphate-buffered saline.
A pig skin model suggested that nonporous surfaces had longer and higher rates of transmission for both pathogens. The researchers are currently conducting similar trials with other pathogens, including the bacteria that cause tuberculosis.
“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.
For more information:
Vaglenov K. #2283. Presented at: 2014 General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology; May 17-20, 2014; Boston.