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Nina In New York: If You Get MRSA From A Recent Flight, You Can Probably Trace The Blame Directly Back To This Study

Low-Flying Airplane (file / credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Low-Flying Airplane (file / credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
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By Nina Pajak

Airplanes are dirty. We all know this. It doesn’t take a seasoned traveler or an infectious disease specialist to understand that fact. The cabins see hundreds of passengers a day, and with those passengers come dirty shoes, unwashed hands, and unchecked sneezing and coughing. Due to the fact that air travel is THE PITS, flights are run back to back to back on the same planes, giving crew approximately zero minutes to adequately clean seats and bathrooms during turnover. They probably barely have time to pee and reapply their deodorant before they have to pretend to happily welcome the next festering batch of germs group of people on board.

As passengers, there’s little we can do about this other than practice good hygiene during and post-flight. There’s also a healthy dose of “I don’t wanna think about it,” as well as a hearty reliance on the concept that bacteria can’t live on surfaces long enough to pose a serious health risk. This, as it turns out, is wholly untrue.

To prove this disturbing and mostly unwanted theorem, scientists took a perfectly good, normal, dirty plane and filled the cabin with MRSA and e-coli bacteria. Because there’s nothing like making a problem worse than it was in order to prove that it’s worse than we thought.

The e-coli got cozy and hung around the armrest for four full days. The charming MRSA thrived in the seatback pocket for a whole week.

You might want to think twice before perusing that Sky Mall catalog next time you fly. You know, because if the guy sitting there at any point in the past week had MRSA, you could catch it. Not because it’s filled with inane and overpriced attic-bound detritus. No, sir. I’ll not hear of it. Sky Mall is an underestimated and largely untapped treasure trove of gift ideas for the discerning customer. Thankfully, they have a website, so you can still check out the “Bashful Yeti” without risking fatal infection. I encourage you all to do so.

The study was conducted by researchers out of Auburn University and was partially funded by the FAA. The researchers felt that the dry air in the cabin was responsible not only for making your hands feel like onion skin, but also for providing such a habitable environment for the buggies. The FAA is evidently looking into cleaning and disinfecting strategies, and in the meantime suggests we all use the good sense given to us by God and our mothers and take a shower when you get home from a trip. In other words, keep on keeping on, but quit letting your kids lick the armrest. Note taken.

No word on what they did with the infected plane. With airlines operating the way they are, and my luck being what it is, I’m guessing they gave it a quick wipe down before I boarded it last week at LaGuardia on my way to see my in-laws. Thankfully, I’d gotten all my Sky Mall shopping done in advance. It pays to think ahead.

Nina Pajak is a writer living with her husband, daughter and dog in Queens. Connect with Nina on Twitter!