It's a technological marvel, sure, but flying is generally miserable and, for those of us who're a little phobic, terrifying too. And now there's yet another reason to squirm in your seat with discomfort: germs! Apparently, invisible goodies like MRSA and E. coli stick around airplanes for way too long.
According to the Washington Post, Auburn University researchers tested MRSA and a mean strain of E. coli on common airplane surfaces like tray tables and armrests. The results (soon to be presented at an American Society for Microbiology meeting) might inspire you to accessorize with latex gloves for your next flight:
Methicillin-resistantStaphylococcus aureus (MRSA) lasted for 168 hours on the cloth seatback pockets where flyers store everything from magazines to iPhones. And a virulent strain of E. coli, which can cause severe abdominal cramps and vomiting, persisted for 96 hours on armrests, 72 hours on tray tables and 48 hours on that metal button you use to flush the toilet in airplane lavatories.
For those keeping score at home, 168 hours = a full week. And here you thought those seatback pockets contained chewed gum at the worst. It's enough to make you consider driving when possible. At least then you're wallowing in your own germs.
Before you start picturing Gwyneth Paltrow in Contagion, however, here are some disclaimers. Transmission rates for MRSA were highest for non-porous surfaces, but the MRSA didn't last as long there. (Details are broken out thoroughly at the Washington Post report.) More importantly, researchers were working for the FAA and tasked with amassing baseline data, so none of these estimates account for whatever spit and polish the airlines themselves are doing between flights. Whatever that's worth. (Try not to eat anything off the tray tables.)
"The take-home message is be careful about your hand hygiene and don't travel while contagious or immune compromised," said head researcher Kiril Vaglenov. However, "I don't think it's more dangerous than being at the movie theater."
BRB, washing my hands forever because I took the subway this morning.
Photo via Shutterstock.