It probably isn't much of a secret that commercial airplanes are teeming with germs. But a new report by the Daily Mail Online suggests that airplane cabins are likely far filthier than most people realize, as planes are rarely deep-cleaned, and their tray tables are often brimming with germs, including fecal matter from dirty diapers.
You read that correctly: Many commercial airplanes are infested with baby excrement due to the simple fact that some passengers perform diaper duty on the easiest available platform, the tray table. So, unless you're the first passenger on the flight for the day -- tray tables are usually cleaned once daily at the end of the flying cycle -- chances are, you're ingesting a little bit more than just salted peanuts and pretzels.
"If you have ever spread your peanuts on your tray and eaten, or really just touched your tray at all, you have more than likely ingested baby poo," she claimed. "I saw more dirty diapers laid out on those trays than food."
The recycled air on planes, though typically filtered, is also known to spread germs. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), airborne germs are one of the top two sources of cold virus infection, and the circulating ventilation on airplanes is one of the many possible sources of disease exposure.
Is Ebola a major concern on airplanes? Possibly
Concerning Ebola, health officials say the transmission risk through mass transit like buses and airplanes is negligible. But if airplanes are really only cleaned once per day, and not necessarily at a level of total disinfection, then the risk of contracting something like Ebola, which has now been shown to persist both on dry surfaces and in the air, is perhaps significantly higher than previously believed.
"Limited laboratory studies under favorable conditions indicate that Ebolavirus can remain viable on solid surfaces, with concentrations falling slowly over several days," admits the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a guidance issued on August 1.
While busy airplane cabins may not constitute the most "favorable conditions," it is still possible for Ebola to persist on surfaces like tray tables, arm rests and seat cushions, especially if an infected person sweats on whatever he or she touches. There is also the potential for Ebola to spread through the bodily fluids emitted during a sneeze or cough, which most likely would land directly on a tray table.
A recent study by researchers from the UK's Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) further elucidates this point, having found that Ebola can survive on dry surfaces for up to 50 days. Laboratory tests conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) also found that Ebola can travel through the air via aerosolized particles up to 20 feet.
"[F]iloviruses [like Ebola] are able to survive and remain infectious for cell culture, for extended periods when suspended within liquid media and dried onto surfaces," wrote DSTL researchers in their study.
Based on this assessment, the results help "provide a basis with which to inform risk assessment and manage exposure to filoviruses," they added.