A new study has revealed that the headrest harbors more germs than anywhere else.
A company called Marketplace took 19 short-haul flights between Ottawa and Montreal at various times of the day this summer.
During each flight, they swabbed five spots – the seatbelt, tray table, headrest, seat pocket and washroom handle.
More than 100 samples were then sent off to the lab at the University of Guelph to be tested by microbiologist Keith Warriner for various bacteria, as well as yeast, mould, and E. coli.
According to Keith, almost half the surfaces that were tested had high levels of bacteria, yeast or mould that would put a person at risk of serious infection.
He told Marketplace: "I was really amazed about how much we actually recovered from them, some of them more scary than others."
The worst spot was the headrest though, which, along with the seat pocket, tested for E.coli – a type of bacteria common in human and animal intestines, which means it likely came from fecal contamination.
While most types of E.coli are harmless some can cause serious food poisoning and infection.
E.coli bacteria is a common cause of cystitis – an infection of the bladder and some types of E.coli can cause gastrointestinal infections and severe illness.
One common strain called E.coli 0157 produces such toxins and is usually responsible for the outbreaks that are covered by the news.
Classic symptoms linked to this strain, that include severe stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhoea that may be bloody.
The symptoms usually last up to seven days if there are no complications, but some infections can be severe and may be life-threatening.
There was also big concern over the presence of Hemolytic bacteria – typically associated with strep throat – that was found on one head rest, because of the ease with which it could be passed on to a new passenger.
While the microbiologist was shocked at the level of bacteria on the plane surfaces, he was mainly confused at how fecal matter could get onto areas like the inside of seat pockets.
But the news will come as no surprise to flight attendants, who have found everything from used nappies to tampons in the back of seats.
One former cabin crew member told CBC News: "Everything goes in there; everything from the paper-thin vomit bags, to used wrappers… I found used tampons in seat pockets before."
One of the main issues is the lack of time that staff have to clean the planes in between flights, which is why tests found such high levels of mould and staph on the tray tables.
As a result, travellers are warned against sleeping with their heads on the tables or eating anything off the table itself.
Sun Online Travel previously revealed the grim truth about eating on board planes, from dirty hot water tanks to three-day old food.
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