Their project: how long can germs survive on various surfaces on a plane?


We already know that planes are airborne petri dishes, and that one open-mouthed sneeze can spread who-knows-what through a cabin faster than you can say “God Bless You.” But a study reminds us that it’s not so much what we inhale on planes that causes the really big problems, but what we touch.

… Researchers (Auburn University) dabbed surfaces in an airplane with two especially virulent bugs: Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (better known as the superbug MRSA, which kills about 19,000 people in the U.S. every year), and E. coli bacteria, a germ responsible for abdominal cramping, nausea and diarrhea. The goal of the experiment was to find out how long these germs can survive and remain transmittable in the cabin of a typical airplane.

… Researchers chose six surfaces that people frequently touch, like armrests, seatback tray tables, cloth magazine pockets, and the handle used to flush the toilet. MRSA survived for up to 168 hours on cloth seatback pockets. E. coli survived for 96 hours on armrests, 72 hours on tray tables, and 48 hours on toilets. The germs were not, however, transmittable for the duration of their lifespans on all of the surfaces. When carried in sweat or saliva on porous materials (like cloth magazine pockets and armrests), MRSA was only transmittable about 1.1 percent of the time after 24 hours and lost its impact entirely after 48 hours. But, when deposited in sweat on nonporous surfaces like tray tables, its transmission rate was nearly 45 percent. E. coli remained highly transmittable on tray tables even after 72 hours

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