If you were always a little skeeved out by the seat-back pockets, tray tables and armrests on airplanes, perhaps you have good reason to be.
A new study based on simulated environments shows that disease-causing bacteria can linger for hours, and even days, on these surfaces.
For the study, researchers from Auburn University used simulated sweat, simulated saliva and phosphate buffered saline that contained E. coli and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus to see how long the bacteria lasted on six different kinds of airplane surfaces. The surfaces included the armrest, the plastic tray table, the window shade, the seat-back pocket cloth, leather, and the metal toilet button.
After the different solutions were inoculated onto the samples of airplane surfaces, the researchers exposed the surfaces to typical airplane conditions of 24 degrees Celsius (75.2 degrees Fahrenheit) and 20 percent humidity.
The researchers found that certain bacteria survived longer on some surfaces than others. For instance, MRSA survived much longer on the seat-back cloth pocket (168 hours), than it did on the toilet seat handle. Meanwhile, E. coli survived longest on the armrest (96 hours), the tray table (72 hours) and the toilet handle (48 hours).
MRSA and E. coli also seemed to survive for longer when they were in the phosphate buffered saline, compared with the simulated saliva and sweat.
Researchers also used a pig skin model to see how well the bacteria were able to be transmitted, and they found the rate of transmission was both longer and higher when the bacteria were on nonporous surfaces, compared with porous surfaces.
The findings were presented at a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology; because they have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, they should be considered preliminary.
For more on how long certain bacteria and viruses can survive on different surfaces, click over to our infographic here.