Should Germs on Planes Keep Us Grounded?

PurThread Medical Director and Be Well Doctor, Russ Greenfield MD, Weighs in on Last Week’s Headlines

Author: purthread medical director russ greenfield, md

Author: purthread medical director russ greenfield, md

Researchers at Auburn University made a splash in the media last week by publishing the results of a study showing that MRSA and a nasty strain of E. Coli can survive on surfaces inside airplanes for up to a week. Before this news causes you to second guess your next business trip or vacation, there are a few key points about the study that may be helpful to note.

  • The researchers placed the MRSA and E. Coli germs on the airplane’s surfaces—they were not organically found there. They then studied the germs to determine how long they would survive in the environment when left alone.
  • Those last two words are key: the germs were left alone. The airlines’ standard cleaning protocols were not included in the study, so we can’t determine if those protocols suffice to kill the bugs.

So while the news that MRSA and E. Coli can survive on airplanes for days or even a week can never be good, it is important to remember the parameters of the research being done—germs placed, surfaces uncleaned. The researchers have done important work that serves as a valuable caution to both the airline industry and the public, but it was not intended to keep us on the ground.

Instead, it should serve as a useful reminder that bugs lurk in any number of places we touch—not just the obvious door handles and gas pumps—but upholstery, like the airplane seat backs, and hard surfaces, like the trays. For the airline industry, that will require study into the safest and most effective ways to keep these surfaces clean and free of dangerous germs. For each of us, it is a prompt to

  • practice healthy hygiene habits—scrub your hands in warm, soapy water for at least twenty seconds, steer clear of touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • keep hydrated
  • keep wounds clean and wrapped
  • be a good citizen – as much as you can, fly only when well

Safe and happy summer travels to you. Be well!