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Spread of numerous pathogens: Aircraft cabins are so dingy

Spread of numerous pathogens: Aircraft cabins are so dingy


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Dangerous bacteria: Numerous pathogens lurk on the plane

Scientists recently reported that it is not clear how many viruses and bacteria are transmitted in airplanes, but it is clear that numerous pathogens can be found in airplanes. Folding tables, armrests, seat covers, door handles and toilet flush buttons in particular are often heavily contaminated with it, as a study has now shown.

Airplane health hazards

Air travel is often a health hazard. Not only because there is an increased risk of thrombosis when flying, but also because many surfaces on the plane are often populated with potentially dangerous microorganisms that could trigger infectious diseases. This has now been shown in a study by researchers from the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena (FSU).

Potential sources for the rapid spread of infectious diseases

According to a statement from the FSU, a total of 4.1 billion passengers were carried in 2017, a record number.

According to the experts, in civil aviation alone this is 4.1 billion potential sources for the rapid spread of infectious diseases, which were geographically limited in the past.

"Material surfaces in aircraft cabins are a unique habitat for microbes," said Prof. Dr. Klaus Jandt from the Otto Schott Institute for Materials Research at the University of Jena.

"No other form of transport bridges such large distances between countries and continents in a short time and connects regions with good health care with areas in which epidemics or dangerous infectious diseases are not uncommon," said the expert.

Surfaces populated by various microorganisms

As part of the review, which was published in the specialist magazine "Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease", the Jena materials scientists used almost 800 original papers to investigate the scientific findings on microbes on surfaces in airplanes.

It was found that the surfaces of aircraft are generally populated by various types of microorganisms.

"There are infectious hotspots like folding tables, armrests, seat covers, door handles and toilet flush buttons," explained Prof. Jandt.

"We were surprised at how little reliable data on the number of microbes on the inner surfaces of commercial aircraft materials are available, even though there are numerous, in some cases less reliable, sources on the Internet," added the expert.

Some microbes use us, some harm us

"Not all microbes are dangerous to humans, many even use us," said Prof. Mathias W. Pletz from the University Hospital Jena.

"However, some microbes found in airplanes are not harmless," said the study co-author.

As the Jena researchers report further, the survivability and transferability of the microbes to humans depends, among other things, on the types of materials and their physicochemical surface properties.

Suspend superficial chains of infection

In order to ensure that nobody has to worry about microbes on the surfaces of planes anymore, the Jena researchers propose a catalog of measures in their work.

This includes, among other things, raising awareness of this issue among aircraft manufacturers, airlines, cabin crew and passengers.

But there are also information boards at the hotspots, more thorough and frequent cleaning of the hotspots, and the use of new antimicrobial material concepts that the scientists in Jena are currently working on.

The FSU research team is optimistic that these strategies could soon be able to sustainably interrupt superficial chains of infection in aircraft. (ad)

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