New Thing to Fear on Planes: MRSA On Your Seatback

You might have some trouble getting on a plane after you read this.  But did you know that microbes on a plane can survive a whole week?

According to, "Researchers have found that disease-causing bacteria can linger for several days within an aircraft cabin"

That means you're on-board with the flu and the measles and for an unlucky few, even MERS.

But there is some good news. "For us to catch bacteria from another traveler through things that we touch, the pathogens must survive environmental conditions in a plane," reports.

Scientists suspended some E.coli and MRSA, the contagious illness hospitals dread because of its easy transference from patient to patient, in a saline solution, then simulated sweat and saliva.

Then, to see where these pathogens lived longest, the team placed the suspensions of the two pathogens onto a sample of commonly touched surfaces: rubber armrests, metal toilet handles, plastic tray tables, plastic window shades, leather seats, and seatback pocket cloth. The swatches were then exposed to typical commercial airplane cabin conditions of 24 degrees Celsius and 20 percent humidity.

And here's the disgusting results, as smartplanet notes: MRSA survived on a seatback pocket cloth for 168 hours, or exactly a week, though it only lasted (only!) four days on a toilet handle; E. coli survived the longest on armrest material, a total of 96 hours, or four days, and it also survived 72 hours on the plastic tray table and shade, and 48 hours on the toilet handle. 

While bacteria lasted the shortest on the toilet handle, that same flush button was most likely to transmit the microbes to the next user.  And testing how quickly "infected" surfaces transferred to skin, nonporous (metal or plastic) surfaces had significantly higher rates of transmission than the porous ones (like armrests and seat pockets) for both pathogens.

"If the bacteria do not survive there is no transmission," lead author Kiril Vaglenov explains at "And there is no infection if the bacteria are not transmitted in an viable state. We found they survive and they are viable."

So what should we do?  Wash, wash, wash your hands after touching anything.


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