Researchers at the American Society for Microbiology have just completed a study on the resistance in 'planes of two pathogens : Staphy-lococ-cus aureus ( associated with infections such as boils, and sinusitis, amongst others ) and Esche-richia coli ( which are mostly harmless, although some types can cause serious food poisoning ). Respecting the humidity and temperature found in airplanes, the researchers infected armrests, plastic trays and window blinds in their laboratory with these pathogens; and the results were surprising.
Kiril Vaglenov, Researcher - Auburn University, Alabama, United States : ''We figured out that these pathogens can remain on these surfaces over a week and there's a high risk of them being transmitted from these surfaces to the fingers of the passengers. Of course we didn't took in account whether or not if we disinfect those surfaces what would happen.''
Staphylococcus aureus, which can be deadly in some cases, can survive up to 168 hours, or seven days within seat pocket fabrics, and escherichia coli remains alive for four days on armrests for example. One question then arises: what parts of an aircraft are disinfected by the cleaning companies ?
Nathalie Chesnais, Quality Director – Sustainability Development – Servair : "We disinfect in certain areas, usually the food preparation areas such as pantries, and galleys, toilets of course and sometimes the fold-up trays. For the long-hauls this is done at every intervention because the turnaround time is longer. In a short-haul, we just do basic cleaning.
In other words, we remove the paper, chewing gum and newspapers to make it at least visually clean. The short-haul will be disinfected, possibly during the night, at its base.
You have to understand that normally, neither the fabrics, nor the armrests etc. of an airplane seat are disinfected. That's to say, the general environment is not sterilized or disinfected on a daily basis."
The products used to kill bacteria and viruses do meet the disinfectant norms but their effectiveness is limited over time. These American researchers are therefore now considering the most effective means of disinfection, as well as tests regarding materials naturally resistant to microbes. The war on bacteria in aircraft has only just begun.