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Disease-causing bacteria can linger on planes for a week

May 23, 2014 Aviation, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59Disease-causing bacteria can linger on surfaces commonly found in aircraft cabins for days, even up to a week, according to research presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.

The finding comes after a second case of the deadly new disease MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) was diagnosed in the US. US health officials have posted warnings at 22 airports and reminded US Customs staff to be on alert for sick travellers. MERS is caused by a virus, not a bacteria, which means there is no specific medicine or antibiotic to use against it.

The World Health Organisation, while saying it is concerned about the MERS virus, has stopped short of calling the recent outbreak a public health emergency. The disease, which emerged from the Arabian peninsula and is connected somehow with camels, has killed over 150 people globally so far and has a death rate of 30%. CHR_TTR_Banner UK_March14(300x250px)

“Many air travellers are concerned about the risks of catching a disease from other passengers given the long time spent in crowded air cabins,” Kiril Vaglenov of Auburn University, who presented the data to the American Society for Microbiology, told his audience.

“This report describes the results of our first step in investigating this potential problem.”

Vaglenov , speaking of bacteria rather than viruses, said that in order for disease-causing bacteria to be transmitted from a cabin surface to a person, they must survive the environmental conditions in the aircraft.

In the study Vaglenov and his colleagues tested the ability of two pathogens, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and E. coli O157:H7, to survive on surfaces commonly found in aircraft. They obtained six different types of material from a major airline carrier (armrest, plastic tray table, metal toilet button, window shade, seat pocket cloth, and leather), inoculated them with the bacteria and exposed them to typical aircraft conditions.

MRSA lasted longest (168 hours) on material from the seat-back pocket while E. coli O157:H7 survived longest (96 hours) on the material from the armrest.

“Our data show that both of these bacteria can survive for days on the selected types of surfaces independent of the type of simulated body fluid present, and those pose a risk of transmission via skin contact,” Vaglenov says.

This research is laying the groundwork for important work to come.

“Our future plans include the exploration of effective cleaning and disinfection strategies, as well as testing surfaces that have natural antimicrobial properties to determine whether these surfaces help reduce the persistence of disease-causing bacteria in the passenger aircraft cabin,” says Vaglenov.

They currently have ongoing trials with other human pathogens including the bacteria that cause tuberculosis.

Edited by : Peter Needham

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