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Surprising Science

Don’t Touch That Seat-Back Pocket In Front Of You

Despite previous research and anecdotes about the germiness of airplane bathrooms, scientists found that some dangerous pathogens lived for days on seat-back pockets and armrests.

What’s the Latest Development?

A team of scientists from several universities applied “artificial sweat and saliva rife with either E. coli or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)” to six objects commonly found in a typical commercial aircraft, including a toilet flush button, an armrest, and a seat-back pocket. They discovered that E. coli was able to survive on an armrest for four days, and MRSA made it an entire week on the seat-back pocket. The team presented their findings this week at the general meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.

What’s the Big Idea?

While the bathroom is often considered the germiest place in the airplane cabin, the research suggests that the places travelers spend the most time — the seats — can harbor some pretty dangerous pathogens. Even worse, says Auburn University’s Kiril Vaglenov, is the fact that “[MRSA] is being carried asymptomatically in a transient way by approximately 1 percent of the U.S. population.” Airlines, including Delta — which supplied the objects used in the research — say they have rigorous cleaning and sanitizing procedures in place. The team’s next steps include testing the effectiveness of these procedures and investigating the possible use of antimicrobial surfaces in aircraft.

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Read it at CityLab


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