If you’ve ever thought that it seems like you get sick every time you take an airplane somewhere, you might not be mistaken. In recent studies conducted by scientists on the lifespan of different types of germs, results showed that some deadly pathogens are hardy for seven days or longer inside an airplane. Understanding the life span of germs on airplanes can help you take action to stay healthy whether you’re taking a trip across North America or across the world.
Types of Germs and Their Airplane Lifespans
Medical researchers at Auburn University took samples of E. coli and MRSA, germs which cause illnesses ranging from diarrhea to severe skin wound infections, and placed them on common areas in airplanes such as seats, trays, seat belts and handles. The scientists discovered the MRSA germs lasted for up to seven days on the cloth seat pocket with the magazines, and the E. coli persisted for four days on the armrest. The scientists found that the germs were most easily passed to human skin when they were on a plastic surface. Meanwhile, researchers from the University of Arizona found MRSA on the food trays of at least one in every four flights.
Where Germs Lurk on Airplanes
Just like in other environments where people spend time, germs are present on just about every surface in an airplane. While airline staff do their best to sanitize the plane’s cabin between flights, not every germ gets removed. Moreover, during a long or crowded flight as well as during peak cold and flu season, there simply may be more germs to go around. Germs are common on airplane surfaces including the flip-down trays, arm rests, seat back pockets, toilet flushers and window shades.
How to Stay Healthy During Air Travel
As soon as you set foot in the airport, you’ll need to take precautions against germs. Try to touch as few surfaces as possible. Once you’re on the plane, get out your stash of antibacterial wipes and thoroughly swab each surface around your seat. Concentrate on the areas your hands, food and drinks will touch. These include the safety belt, arm rests, tray table, seat pocket, window shade and overhead compartment bin. Bring along a TSA-approved size of personal hand sanitizer to use when accessing the restroom is not convenient for hand washing. If the people seated near you are sneezing or coughing, ask if it’s possible to switch seats to a place where no one is obviously sick. You may also want to avoid having drinks poured by airline staff and instead opt for the bottled water that’s still sealed. Bring your own snacks that don’t have to be placed onto the tray table, and avoid putting personal items into the cloth seat back pockets.
Preparing for a Healthy International Trip
Before boarding an aircraft for an international trip, visit a travel health clinic where a travel health specialist will help you determine whether you need any vaccinations or travel immunizations for your destination. A pre-travel health exam can help determine your overall health and whether you’ll need any medications such as anti-malarial drugs for your trip. Travel health specialists also offer expert guidance on how to pack travel supplies for optimal health. You may need items such as sunscreen, mosquito repellant, a water purification kit, anti-diarrheal medications and first aid supplies for your destination.
Centers for Disease Control: Infectious Diseases Related to International Travel: E. coli
ABC News: Are Airplane Seats a Ticket to Infection?
Forbes.com: Planes Can Harbor Deadly Infections for 7 Days, Study Shows