The interiors of airplanes are awash in bacteria, including fecal bacteria, according to random tests conducted by Dallas-Fort Worth's local CBS affiliate.
CBS 11 contracted a team to randomly swab 10 surfaces on two separate planes.
"We found roughly 3000 bacteria on this plate," said Karen Deiss, a microbiologist from Armstrong Forensic Laboratory in Arlington, Va. "The door was kind of filthy."
Researchers found the bacterial variety Klebsiella on a tray table and transferred it to a petri dish to culture it. After being allowed to proliferate in the dish, it came to resemble a wet, white blob vaguely reminiscent of mold.
"It's really gross looking on the plate," Deiss said.
The CBS researchers declared that the most disgusting culture; however, was produced from a swab taken from inside a seat pocket.
"All of the bacteria we generated from this plate were associated with the human gut," Deiss said. "A lot of these bacteria that live in our gut ended up pretty concentrated on the backseat of the chair."
Traveling? Wash your hands! According to the University of Arizona's Charles Gerba, a microbiology professor known as "Dr. Germ," the study just proves what he has been saying for years: Airplanes are not cleaned regularly enough.
"It's an indicator of how clean the planes are," says Dr. Gerba. "There is no policy for cleaning or disinfecting. There are no recommendations by the health department."
In his own studies, similar to those conducted by CBS 11, Gerba has found infectious agents responsible for everything from influenza to diarrhea, and even samples of the superbug methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). As a result, Gerba advises travelers to avoid airplane lavatories and to use hand sanitizer.
But infectious disease specialist Cedric Spak, of Baylor University Medical Center of Dallas, had a different take.
"Some of the bacteria that I've looked at here are consistent with what we found in urine or stool in normal people," he acknowledged, but said that is not necessarily cause for alarm.
"It is all the same type of bacteria that lives down under the belly button," he said. "I don't want someone to think I've got feces all over my front side, but that bacteria is there and that bacteria is found in some of these reports, which means someone was scratching their belly button and then scratching their tray table."
Most of the bacteria found in the CBS 11 study are normal, Spak said, and do not pose any threat to healthy people. And viruses cannot survive long on dry surfaces.
"We are in a dirty world," he explained. "We are supposed to be."
It's not the first time concerns have been raised about bacterial infestation on airplanes. Just days before the CBS 11 story, Caroline Morse wrote on the Huffington Post about 10 germy places to avoid while traveling. In her top 10 are airplane lavatories, tray tables, seat pockets, and pillows and blankets.
She notes that airplane lavatories are so small that bacteria from the flushing toilet spray onto nearly every surface in the room, including the sink - where moisture left by messy passengers allows them to flourish. As for seat pockets, Morse writes, "We've seen passengers shove dirty tissues, dirty diapers, banana peels, sunflower-seed shells and general trash into the seat pockets on a plane."
"It's like storing your stuff inside a public trashcan for the duration of your flight."
Morse also warns against hotel remotes, hotel bedspreads, hotel light switches, water fountains, touch-screen ticket kiosks and cruise ship handrails.
Learn more: Natural News