Planning a summer getaway? Then you may be about to get an unwelcome surprise.
According to ABC News, a new study by Auburn University in Alabama has revealed that some surprising plane surfaces can not only hide bacteria, but can stay put for up to a week, which equals plenty of opportunities for a passenger to get infected.
Believe it or not, toilet buttons weren’t even the worse offenders. Instead, plane seats, armrests and seat pockets were able to shelter bacteria for a disturbingly long period of time. In fact, even the very atmosphere of a plane is germ-friendly.
“What differentiates the airplane cabin from many other communal environments is the very low air humidity,” said lead researcher Kiril Vaglenov, PhD.
Vaglenov and his colleagues collected samples of material used for high-traffic airplane surfaces: the armrest, tray table, window shade, seat pocket, leather accents, and toilet flush button. They swabbed the surfaces with two microbes that are major causes of human disease: E. coli O157:H7 and MRSA (methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus).
The researchers also used both “simulated saliva” and “simulated sweat” to swab bacteria onto the surfaces. Both fluids allowed bacteria to spread onto the plane – we’re talking sneezing, coughing, sweating, or even having damp skin or clothes.
Both germs hung around for days because, according to the researchers, bacteria can easily hide out in the porous surfaces of fabrics until they come into contact with a traveler who unsuspectingly touches the surface.
“Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly,” says Vaglenov. “Air travelers should practice good hand hygiene at all times.”
He also added that people should try their best to refrain from traveling while sick. If you must travel if you’re ill, it’s extremely important to follow best practices, such as covering your mouth with a tissue if you cough and/or sneeze, and washing your hands frequently/using hand sanitizer.
Additionally, Vaglenov’s team is currently testing materials that are less bacteria-friendly that could potentially be used to create germ-resistent plane seats and surfaces.