Are You Safe From Germs on a Aircraft?


With Ebola being a major concern for air travelers, the question comes up, are we safe from germs on an aircraft and how do we assure we take precautions to be safe?

Anytime you get a large number of people in an enclosed environment, there is always the opportunity for picking up germs.

Usually one of the first concerns is the cabin air. Recent studies have shown that the cabin air circulated through the aircraft system is very clean. The HEPA filter systems used in most aircraft does an excellent job in removing any contaminants.

The real problems are the upholstery, the tray table, the arm rests, and the toliet handle. Some bacteria can live on these surfaces for up to a week! Hopefully the aircraft has been properly cleaned, but if not, problems can arise. A recent study has shown that the tray table had the highest level of bacteria. Seat belts, window shades, seat backs, and arm rests also were singled out as areas where bacteria can survive. Bottom line, any surface you touch could be contaminated!

Are the pillows and blankets safe to use? Unless the pillow or blanket is in a sealed bag, my advice would be not to use them! We really do not know where or with whom they have been or what contaminants they might contain. My wife and I carry our own neck pillows and blankets, but even these need to be cleaned after use.

Do the airlines clean the aircraft between flights? It seems the time between arrival and departure of an aircraft is getting shorter and therefore cleaning, other than trash removal and maybe a quick toilet cleaning, is probably not happening. To my knowledge there are not any FAA regulations for aircraft cleaning. I have read that airlines do an in-depth cleaning at least every 30 days.

So what should we as travellers do to minimize our exposure to aircraft germs and bacteria? First, do not use aircraft blankets and pillows, carry your own. Also carry, and use, disinfectant wipes. I would suggest you wipe down all surfaces you might touch during your travel. Also carry, and use, an alcohol based hand sanitizer. You should also use a tissue or paper towel to open doors and turn on and off bathroom faucets. Be careful about touching your face and eyes with your hands as your eyes and nose are fast routes for germs to enter your body. Some people do fly with a mask and gloves and I personally believe we are going to see more of that going forward.

As to the Ebola virus, it is normally transferred through open wounds and membranes such as the mouth and eyes. Refrain from any contact with blood or body fluids and do not handle anything that could have come in contact with infected fluids. Watch for health signs and symptoms for Ebola for 21 days after travel and seek immediate attention if needed. Also be aware of individuals in your environment that may have any of the Ebola symptoms. I believe the Ebola virus can survive a couple of hours after leaving the body. There is also one Ebola expert who feels that the virus can become airborne. As further information is available on this I will communicate through this blog.

Bottom line ……. you have to take charge!

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