Airplanes & Airports

BIOTERRORBIBLE.COM: In the aftermath of man-made bio-terror generated pandemic, the government and media will be feeding the public any number of different scapegoats allegedly responsible for the pandemic that will likely kill millions.

While some scapegoats (see below) are indeed plausible, it is much more likely that the live pathogens or agents responsible for the pandemic will likely be dispersed via A) chemtrails by government airplanes or drones, B) by the U.S. Postal Service via Tide detergent samples, C) by the government and medical establishment via tainted vaccines or by D) the portable petri dish commonly known as the Trojan condom.

Bio-Terror Scapegoats: Africa, Agriculture (Food & Animals), Airports & Air Travel, Al Qaeda, Bio Labs, Bio-Terrorism Is Easy, Bio-Terrorists (Bio-Hackers), Black Market, Bugs & Insects, Censorship / Lack Thereof, Domestic Terrorists, Exotic Animals (Zoonosis), Government Ineptitude, Mail-Order DNA, Mexico, Missile Shield Failure, Mutation, Natural Disaster, No Clinical Trials (Vaccines), and The Monkeys.

Title: Smallpox Martyrs
December 15, 2002

Abstract: The next terrorist attack on America could once again be brought via commercial airliner. The simplest way to deliver the deadliest bio-weapon of all, smallpox, is also the most low-tech and efficient. All you need is a suicide volunteer, and we now know they are legion. Infect him in Baghdad or Karachi or the Gaza Strip; have him sit out the virus's two-week incubation period until he begins to cough and get woozy. Then buy him a plane ticket from New York to Los Angeles, or from Chicago to Atlanta. All he has to do is watch the in-flight entertainment and emit the occasional cough. A sneeze works, too.

Such a person is now referred to by public-health officials with a disconcerting name: the smallpox martyr. Even before boarding his plane, the ''human missile'' crisscrosses the airport, stands in line at check-in, at the Starbucks stand, in the bathroom, at security. Whenever he coughs, some people close to him will breathe the virus in, and it will lodge in their lips and noses, and they will carry it inside them onto their own planes, passing it to the passengers directly around them. In the airport alone, experts estimate, a smallpox martyr can infect between 3 to 20 other people. And in a confined space with internally circulating air, that number could be even greater.

Americans wouldn't hear anything for another two weeks as the virus incubates. Then in different corners of America, wherever those planes landed, hundreds if not thousands will come down with the ''flu.'' Their backs will ache. Their fevers will spike. Their skin will darken until it looks charred, and then things will really get bad. There is no treatment. By this point, a vaccine is useless.

Such an outbreak would be very hard for authorities to track. (Consider how difficult it was for the Centers for Disease Control to track 18 cases of anthrax.) Even after authorities have become aware of an outbreak, a third of those who contract smallpox will die, but not before infecting others, a third of whom will also die. And so on. (Smallpox killed 500 million people in the 20th century alone before it was declared eradicated in 1980.) One smallpox martyr could, in theory, bring the United States to a standstill.

The government is soon expected to announce plans to vaccinate some members of the military as well as the 500,000 health-care workers expected to respond to a smallpox outbreak. The vaccination itself does not come without complications; out of every one million recipients, as many as 50 could have serious medical complications, even fatal ones. But this is a cost Americans must bear, say experts who are busily developing strategies to battle a smallpox epidemic. The strongest plan involves ''the vaccination ring,'' in which all those who could possibly have come into contact with a victim are vaccinated. The idea is to corral the virus and prevent it from spreading to new social networks. Some experts think this may work, but others are doubtful. Indeed, if an outbreak occurs, the only sure way to fight it is to go inside and shut your door (UCLA, 2002).

Title: San Francisco Airport Serves As Lab To Quietly Test Bioterror Sensors
Date: March 25, 2003
Oakland Tribune

Abstract: As more than 65,000 people a day heft luggage into San Francisco International Airport to be scanned for guns and bombs, hidden machines occasionally sniff the air they breathe for lethal gases and germs.

Inside SFO, defense scientists are quietly testing a variety of chemical and bio-warfare sensors in a race to guard airports nationwide against terrorist attacks.

Today, chemical or biological detectors are at work in New York, Washington and other U.S. cities. But SFO is the nation's only major international airport testing detectors for chemical and biological agents, sensors that are equally or more accurate than the military detectors rolling and flying into Iraq with U.S. forces.

SFO is, in fact, a laboratory, serving as the nation's model for protecting airports and perhaps other large indoor, public places viewed as attractive terrorist targets.

Over months of experimenting, scientists, airport managers and security staff are getting a preview of complications in the domestic war on terror, where they face decisions largely hidden from the flying public.

The SFO experiments suggest that sensor technology, while promising for crisis management, may never be a full answer to bioterrorism. Even the best of today's biosensors, relying on DNA fingerprinting, pose built-in delays of up to four hours in confirming the existence of some key bioterror agents. Guarding airports probably will require multiple biosensors, some slow and accurate, others fast and open to false alarms.

In the event of an attack, that means airport managers still will face a difficult calculus, tinged with uncertainty as they weigh the risk of greater loss of life against frightening or alienating the public through airport evacuations. To compensate, their actions will have to be fast, intelligent and made with a grasp for the consequences.

The SFO experiments put those consequences before airport managers with more clarity than ever before. Scientists already have found new ways to minimize casualties in attacks on any airport. They plan to offer that advice to Oakland International, San Jose International and other airports, even as the SFO work continues.

Using smoke releases and computer simulations, for example, the need for rethinking airport evacuations became obvious. If terrorists strike an airport for maximum effect -- releasing gas or germs in a crowded main terminal -- then evacuating passengers would expose healthy passengers and spread the cloud.

"We discovered evacuation (through main terminals) would actually kill more people," said Duane Lindner, deputy director of Chem/Bio Programs at Sandia National Laboratories/California at a recent biodefense conference.

Sandia executives decline to identify the airports where detectors are installed under PROACT, the federal research project on detectors and other ways to protect airports, now housed in the Department of Homeland Security.

Officials at San Francisco International also decline to talk about the experiments. "I can't talk about that for security reasons right now," said Michael McCarron, SFO director of community affairs.

Officials involved in the experiments insisted on keeping details of the detectors secret -- their number, location, appearance and capabilities -- so that terrorists could not identify, disable or defeat them. But all were designed for anonymity, to be unobtrusive boxes breathing on a wall or floor.

Despite the secrecy, sufficient details have emerged in public statements and interviews with government officials and scientists to show SFO has a leading role in exploring national anti-terror defenses.

It could be a year or more before the SFO experiments lead scientists to a standard chem-bio sniffer system that federal security officials will recommend for every U.S. airport and possibly airports abroad. But in a matter of months, officials expect much of what is learned at SFO will change how U.S. airport managers plan to respond to terror attacks.

Scientists began studying subways and airports in the late 1990s as anti-terror experts realized both were chillingly efficient at magnifying the effects of terror attacks. In airports, the greatest fear is the release of smallpox or other contagious agents, unwittingly carried by airline passengers across the nation and across the globe in hours.

The latest evidence came last week when a germ leaped two oceans in a few days, stowing away in the lungs of a Singapore doctor en route to New York then Frankfurt. The bug triggers a mysterious pneumonia classified as Severe

Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and has spread to at least 16 countries, with 10 suspected cases of infected individuals in California, half of them in Santa Clara, Alameda and Sonoma counties -- most having flown from Asia.

Scientists are mapping the air flows of subways and airports, designing sensor networks and advising airports on responding to alarms from a variety of detectors. But the fastest and most relevant are the most open to mistaking common bacteria for biowarfare agents.

For now, no biodetector is capable of foolproof, "real-time" identification of the likeliest bioterror agents. The most accurate commercial biodetectors, originally devised by Lawrence Livermore Lab, issue a false alarm just once every 10,000 tests. But the turnaround time for results is two to four hours.

That may be enough time for authorities to intercept airliners full of infected passengers before they reach their next destination and start administering antibiotics or vaccines. It is what anti-terror scientists call a "detect to treat" technology.

Yet even as Livermore scientists roll out a new, robotic smoke-alarm for germs, performing both antigen tests and DNA-fingerprinting tests in less than half an hour -- a staggering feat -- it probably still won't be fast enough to alert airport officials to evacuate a terminal.

"Today, there is no silver bullet," said Pat Fitch, director of Livermore lab's Chemical and Biological National Security Program (Oakland Tribune, 2003).

Title: Airport Shows Off "Human Carwash"
Date: March 26, 2003
LA Times

Abstract: Worries about anthrax were confined to cattle ranches in the Midwest when Michael DiGirolamo first suggested that the city purchase a decontamination unit for Los Angeles International Airport.

Five years later, LAX is one of three airports in the country, including Ontario and Dallas/Fort Worth international airports, that have such units available to help clean people after a chemical or biological attack, an aviation fuel spill or a natural disaster.

DiGirolamo requested the decontamination systems, which cost $243,000 each, in 1998 after a 1995 nerve gas attack on rush-hour commuters in a Tokyo subway.

"I went to the Los Angeles Fire Department and asked them if we could decontaminate an entire airplane," said DiGirolamo, deputy executive director of airport operations and public safety for the city agency that operates LAX. "And they said we could, but it would take forever."

Only recently has the city decided to publicize the units to reassure travelers that the airport -- cited as the state's No. 1 terrorist target in a recent government report -- is ready to handle the fallout from a biological or chemical attack.

Mayor James K. Hahn got a firsthand look at how the units operate Tuesday at a crowded demonstration outside the airport's Imperial Terminal.

"After spending time touring the LAX decontamination units, I remain convinced that LAX is one of the world's safest airports," Hahn said. "As a result of the current global climate and the high state of alert, I'm requesting [the city agency that operates the airport] purchase two additional units as a precautionary measure."

The request is the latest in a series of efforts by city and federal officials to increase security at the world's fifth-busiest airport. Hahn has announced numerous measures, including more cameras and tighter perimeter security, since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and last year's deadly July 4 shooting at the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

At Tuesday's demonstration, firefighters showed off the decontamination units' ability to clean chemicals from victims in a matter of minutes. The system features a firetruck with enclosed showers that can be attached to a large, heavy plastic tent that covers additional nozzles. The showers spray users with warm water, to which bleach or soap can be added. Each unit can clean 250 people per hour.

After 20 firefighters spent an hour assembling the tent unit and tapped into a nearby hydrant, Chief of Airfield Operations Raymond Jack gamely volunteered to strip down to his black and red swimsuit and walk through what some dubbed the human carwash. Jack's clothes were placed in a trash bag, and he was given a plastic wristband with an identification tag.

A firefighter wearing a hooded plastic suit, rubber boots and gloves and an oxygen tank greeted Jack at the tent's entrance and hosed him down with a retractable nozzle. Jack proceeded along the right side of the red, green and white tent set aside for men. The left side was designated for women and those who could not walk on their own.

Next, Jack stepped into a hazy red light in the middle of the tent, where two similarly attired firefighters hosed him down again and used a broom to scrub his skin. Contaminated water ran under the showers were Jack stood and was siphoned out of the tent into a 600-gallon bladder. When Jack emerged from the tent he was given a baby blue paper suit and yellow booties.

"I didn't know if I should bring shampoo and my rubber ducky," Jack said after he changed back into his track suit. "It's no different than being in a big locker room shower."

The firefighters who operate the units work with the city's three hazardous-materials teams, relying on a variety of sensors and monitors to detect minute concentrations of nuclear, biological or chemical contaminants.

The units can also be used outside the airport, and were sent to Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony and to the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles (LA Times, 2003).

Title: A Germ Has A Ticket To Ride, And Airlines Can't Stop It
Date: April 28, 2003

Abstract: The terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, alerted us to the fact that commercial airliners can be weapons. The recent spread of SARS reminds us that airliners can deliver far more than passengers, packages and duty-free knickknacks. They are a fast and efficient way to share germs.

"Within the known incubation period of any known agent, you can get from the rain forest to [Boston's] Logan Airport in eight hours," said Dr. David Ozonoff, chairman of the Department of Environmental Health at Boston University's School of Public Health.

Humans have always moved and migrated with their illnesses. Air travel has accelerated the process. In one month, air travelers take about 130 million flights. But the speed at which a given germ can move through the air transport system depends on a number of factors — from how catchy the bug is to whether it's more likely to infect people on airplanes than in other public spaces.

Ozonoff says the "hub-and-spoke" airline "is made to order for these kinds of [disease] spreads." The system brings lots of passengers together in large hub airports before shuttling them off to smaller "spoke" sites. For an easy-to-transmit illness like smallpox, this would be a recipe for a very rapid distribution.

Scholars at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., created a computer model of the spread of smallpox via contagious airline passengers in the United States. In the case of smallpox, government officials would have only a few days to shut down the air travel system in order to staunch the spread of the disease, according to Hugh Ellis, a professor of environmental engineering at Johns Hopkins and one of the authors of the computer model. Ellis said it is not known whether a healthy individual is more likely to get sick during a plane ride than in another public setting.

Martha Waters, a research industrial hygienist with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati, said airline passengers are in close quarters — just as bus and subway riders are. But in airliners, she said, the air around them is moving much faster. Waters, who is part of a team that has been studying the airliner environment, said cabin air is a combination of fresh air and filtered, recycled air. She noted that the mix of fresh and recycled air — and the kinds of filters used — varies with the airplane model and with the airline itself.

Of course, a given passenger's chances of getting an in-flight infection depend on a host of factors, including susceptibility and the way in which the particular illness is spread. Waters notes that sicknesses that spread via droplets — like colds and, apparently, SARS — certainly can be spread by a sneezing passenger to a seatmate. But that doesn't mean that airplanes become flying hot zones.

"Would I take that any further and say that people shouldn't get on airplanes?" Waters said. "Absolutely not."

Health authorities around the globe already have intervened in the air travel system, notes Ozonoff, by alerting passengers traveling from SARS hot spots and encouraging citizens to put off nonessential travel to those areas. Some measures — like the brief quarantine of a jetliner from Tokyo at the airport in San Jose, on April 1 — may be too extreme. Ozonoff said that even the hint of smallpox elsewhere in the world would cause the severing of air links to that area. But SARS is neither as deadly nor as contagious as smallpox (UCLA, 2003).

Title: An Action Plan To Reopen A Contaminated Airport
Date: December, 2006
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (PDF)

Abstract: How would authorities respond if San Francisco International Airport (SFO) were to be contaminated with anthrax, and how long would it take to restore the airport to full usability? An intentional bioterrorist attack at the airport could endanger the health of hundreds of people. Long-term closure of this critical transportation hub during decontamination would have disastrous effects on the regional and national economy.

Recall the events of late 2001 when letters containing anthrax spores contaminated office buildings and postal facilities in Florida, New York City, Washington, DC, and other locations. Although some buildings were back in full operation in less than a month, others took many months to reopen, and one Department of State facility was closed for three years. With that experience in mind, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funded a project to minimize the time a major transportation facility would be closed following a biological attack.

Lawrence Livermore and Sandia national laboratories led the project, in partnership with SFO, to develop response and restoration protocols for such events. The group’s work culminated in January 2006 when 120 officials from local, state, and federal agencies participated in a two-day demonstration at SFO’s old international terminal to test the new procedures. Returning the international terminal and a boarding area at SFO to full operation from a large-scale terrorist incident may have taken up to two years based on other biorestoration activities and the decontamination and restoration methods that were available in 2001. Using the protocols developed by the Livermore–Sandia team reduces that time by at least 50 percent. In fact, the team estimates that the time required would actually be less than six months, depending on the level of planning in place prior to an attack.

A new DHS assignment for Livermore is to develop protocols for responding to and cleaning up a large outdoor area contaminated by a bioagent. Researchers already know that sunlight will naturally degrade many biological pathogens. Also, when some bioagent particles hit soil, they stay there, so re-aerosolization is less of a problem. Still, planning for such an attack is new territory. Says Raber, “At this point, no one has experience with wide-area urban decontamination.” The Laboratory is also developing a site-specific biological restoration plan for Grand Central Station in New York City, where Livermore’s Autonomous Pathogen Detection System has been tested. (See S&TR, October 2004, pp. 4–5.) A major subway station offers yet another set of challenges because it is part of a web of tunnels, staircases, and large semi-contained areas. “We look forward to continuing our involvement with major transportation facilities,” says Carlsen. “They are a key to our nation’s economic vitality and the well-being of our citizens” (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, 2006).

Title: Feds Stage Airport Test Of Plan To Slow Pandemic
Date: November 12, 2008

Abstract: Officials from several agencies recently converged on Miami's international airport to take part in a full-scale exercise of the federal government's risk-based strategy to slow the spread of a future pandemic influenza virus across US borders.

Christine Pearson, a spokeswoman for the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), attended the first day of the 2-day drill on Nov 5 and told CIDRAP News that, unlike previous tabletop discussions to test the risk-based border strategy (RBBS), the exercise at Miami included a real plane and actors who played the role of passengers in an airport setting.

"It provided a level of realism that we hadn't had in past exercises, which had mostly been facilitated discussions," she said.

The RBBS is a short-term strategy that the federal government will use in the initial states of a pandemic to delay the spread of the virus enough to afford officials a little extra time to educate the public on how to protect themselves from the disease, produce and distribute vaccine, and position medication and supplies, Pearson said. The strategy involves screening international air passengers to gauge if they are sick or have potentially been exposed to others who are sick with the pandemic virus.

The system would begin when it's clear that a pandemic influenza virus is spreading globally and would end as soon as the virus begins causing illnesses in the United States.

Many public health experts have supported keeping borders open in a pandemic setting, because they don't believe closure would block the spread of the virus and because keeping borders open would preserve the flow of crucial supplies and soften a pandemic's impact on national economies.

Pearson said last week's drill was a joint exercise that involved the HHS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Transportation (DOT), along with numerous state, local, and airline-industry partners.

The scenario involved a novel and lethal human influenza strain that emerged in Southeast Asia and spread quickly and efficiently among humans, she said. The playbook had the World Health Organization (WHO) identifying a human-to-human H5N1 variant that spread to areas of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. The WHO declared a severe (phase 6) pandemic, prompting the United States to raise its response stage to 3 and the secretaries of DHS, HHS, and DOT to enact nationwide RBBS activities.

She said Marty Cetron, director of the CDC's Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, was pleased with how the exercise went and said it exceeded his expectations, particularly how well the partners worked together.

It's likely that the RBBS in its current form will change, based on what officials learned during the exercise, Pearson said, adding "But by testing this now, we will help ensure that the plan we have in place will do what it's designed to do and will ultimately help us to protect the public's health during the next pandemic."

Federal officials routinely conduct drills at quarantine stations, Pearson said, and though additional activities are planned, no plans are in the works to do another large-scale exercise. Officials are likely to conduct more tabletop discussions that could include smaller drills to address certain parts of the RBBS plan (CIDRAP, 2008).

Title: Tularemia Outbreak At A Metropolitan Airport, Texas.
Date: September 7, 2009
Pub Med

Abstract: A jackrabbit die-off near a metropolitan airport was observed by an airport contractor. Further investigation determined that this die-off was probably due to epizootic tularemia. Because of proximity to areas of heavy human traffic and fears of transmission of tularemia to humans, the local health district and department of emergency management organized a multiagency response involving local animal control, environmental health, public health, law enforcement, and airport personnel, in addition to state and federal agencies. The tularemia epizootic subsequently ended, and no cases of human tularemia occurred. In our after-action analysis, we identified several lessons learned: the importance of animal illness surveillance, which can serve as a warning for potential human illness and epidemic; the usefulness of pre-event planning, training, and exercises in facilitating a coordinated response; the usefulness of an effective communication system with the healthcare community; the importance of responders being familiar with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Category A bioterrorism agents when considering a rapid response; and the fact that attempts at environmental control may result in perturbations in animal populations with unintended consequences (Pub Med, 2009).

Title: TSA Report Says Airline Industry Vulnerable To Attack
Date: November 30, 2009
Source: Bio Prep Watch

Abstract: A recently released report by the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general has raised questions about the safety of air cargo, leaving cargo vulnerable to a bioterror attack.

“Air cargo is vulnerable,” the report, which cites repeated problems with the Transportation Security Administration’s program aimed at stopping terrorists from sneaking weapons into cargo packages, says.

The report says that investigators managed to slip into warehouses where cargo is stored that were supposedly secure. The cargo was then loaded onto airplanes and the investigators walked away unchallenged.

Some workers at the facility who handled the cargo were also found to have not received required background checks or training.

The report raises concerns about the TSA’s congressionally mandated effort to tighten security for the 12 million pounds of cargo carried each day in passenger planes. The report states that the TSA does not currently have enough personnel to handle new rules for screening cargo.

Airline cargo, unlike luggage, is not screened by the TSA, which oversees airlines, freight handlers and manufacturers who pack and transport cargo and ensure its security.

TSA spokeswoman Kristin Lee said that the agency has its inspectors focusing on airlines and companies that have been deemed higher risk because of past problems.

The news of unsecured cargo raises questions as to the potential for a bio attack through the air, with a commission on bioterrorism noting that a two kilogram release of anthrax spores into the air could cause more deaths of Americans that died in all of World War II (Bio Prep Watch, 2011).

Title: Study Reveals Ease Of Bioattack On Airline Industry
Date: January 11, 2010
Source: Bio Prep Watch

Abstract: In a study on potential airline bioterrorism, RGF, in association with Kansas State University, has revealed that the release of a bioagent within a plane or airport terminal easily, potentially creating a pandemic.

The study says that terrorist would be able to use a small, hand-activated aspirator, which could easily be purchased at a drugstore or be made from an over the counter nasal spray bottle, to release a virus on an plane, in a terminal or in any commercial building.

The terrorist, the study contends, would simply have to place the virus with the aspirator and release it in the intended area, leaving no one the wiser until they had traveled and spread the virus, leading to a worldwide pandemic.

The solution, RGF says, is to kill the virus before it can reach another person. The study says that advanced oxidation technology could potentially kill an airborne virus. China, during the recent SARS scare, used such technology on its city buses and subways to kill the airborne virus.

RGF’s own oxidation technology has shown that a kill rate of 88 percent for viruses in the air can be achieved at three feet, eliminating a host of viruses and stopping a potential bioterror threat and subsequent worldwide pandemic (Bio Prep Watch, 2010).

Title: Miami Airport Closed For Hours Amid Bioterrorism Fears
Date: September 8, 2010

Abstract: Authorities closed much of Miami International Airport and nearby hotels for hours last week when a man attempting to carry a suspicious container through customs was linked to a 2003 investigation over his handling of plague samples, the Associated press reported (see GSN, May 5, 2006).

Former Texas Tech University professor Thomas Butler, 70, caught the attention of a Transportation Security Administration officer at 9 p.m. Thursday at a customs checkpoint. The inspector checked a database and found that Butler had been charged previously with plague-related crimes.

The airport was evacuated and Butler was taken into custody for a short period. He provided full cooperation and faces no charges in the incident, according to a law enforcement source. An analysis of the container determined it contained no dangerous material, a high-level police official said.

Butler in January 2003 reported vials of plague bacteria stolen from his laboratory. Federal agents were called in to search, but stopped looking when Butler submitted a written statement in which he acknowledged making a “misjudgment” by not telling his supervisor the vials were “accidentally destroyed.”

Butler was convicted of fraudulently sending plague samples to Tanzania in an inaccurately marked package, although charges he had smuggled and illegally transferred the samples were dropped. He also received a two-year prison sentence for fraud and theft relating to contracts with pharmaceutical firms (NTI, 2010).

Title: UDT Calls For Upgrade In Air Cargo Systems Detection
Date: November 3, 2010
Source: Bio Prep Watch

Abstract: Universal Detection Technology has analyzed the recent government alert connected to bioterror weapons like advanced synthetic DNA makers in such locations as the air cargo systems on an airplane.

Commercial genetic sequencing has been around for years, but if sensitive genetic materials get into the wrong hands, it may be possible to recreate bacterial pathogens like smallpox. The technology may also allow terrorists to enhance these pathogens, increase their potency and devise new “designer” biological weapons.

“It is well known that Al-Qaeda has been trying to develop biological weapon capability for some time and the packages sent last week would have gone undetected had they contained a biological weapon such as anthrax,” Jacques Tizabi, CEO of Universal Detection Technology, said. “The  air cargo transport system should take advantage of the most advanced bioweapon detection technologies.”

The vast volume of packages in the air cargo system and the lack of standardized regulations on government inspections may lead to dangerous vulnerabilities. The air cargo moves on both passenger and freight planes. The screening process for this cargo is much more stringent on passenger planes than it is on freight planes. The cargo rules also tend to vary from country to country, which can create vulnerability when freight is brought to the United States.

Twenty million pounds of cargo are transported by passenger planes every single day, according to the International Air Cargo Association, which makes up 16 percent of the total freight carried into or out of the United States (Bio Prep Watch, 2011).

Title: Bioterror Fears Raised Over Cargo Flights
Date: December 27, 2010
Bio Prep Watch

Abstract: Security and bioterrorism prevention experts have pointed to the potential vulnerability of cargo flights that pass over the United States each week as potential sources of bioterrorism.

These flights, called overflights, do not receive federal standards of screening or use the terrorist watch list, the Washington Post reports.

"(A terrorist could) explode a plane with a dirty bomb or a biological weapon or an actual nuclear weapon on board, and that material will spread wherever it crashes," Richard Bloom, a longtime U.S. intelligence operative and current teacher of counterterrorism courses at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona, said, according to the Washington Post.

While the Transportation Security Administration said that other countries have their own screening processes for cargo, it does not use the same methods as the TSA's Secure Flight program that might weed out potential terrorists, according to the Washington Post. This vulnerability has security experts divided.

"We have tens of millions of packages flying almost every night," Yossi Sheffi, director of the Center for Transportation and Logistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said, according to the Washington Post. "We can't stop the huge flow of packages from all over the world. There has to be a balance between acceptable risk and they economy."

The recent October plot to detonate bombs placed in printer cartridges designed to detonate in flight evaded X-ray detection even though authorities knew they were in the packages.

"Congress would make a mistake by passing a requirement for 100 percent screening of cargo," Rafi Ron, former security chief at Tel Aviv's airport, now a security consultant based in McLean, said, the Washington Post reports. "What's the use of legislating 100 percent screening even if the bomb which triggered this legislation would not have been detected by it?" (Bio Prep Watch, 2010).

Title: Powder Grounds Alaska Airlines Flight
Date: May 19, 2011
Source: Bio Prep Watch

Abstract: The flight crew of an Alaska Airlines flight departing Seattle, Washington ,and headed to Santa Ana, California, this week notified authorities of an unknown white powder in the back lavatory that turned out to be toilet paper.

After the 1,000-mile flight landed, law enforcement officers, fire department crews and hazardous materials experts circled the plane after it touched down at John Wayne Airport on April 22 at 4 p.m., KTVU reports.

The 151 passengers and six crew members deplaned as authorities climbed aboard. Members of the county’s sheriff department along with members of the Orange County Fire Authority tested the suspicious substance.

Upon further investigation, Capt. Greg McKeown, the fire department’s spokesperson, told KTVU that the white dust was determined to be a “cellulose paper material” or, in simpler terms, what appeared to be toilet paper.

After the powder was determined to be nonhazardous, the aircraft went back into service.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anthrax is caused by Bacillus anthracis, a spore-forming bacterium. Anthrax was used as a weapon in 2001 as it was deliberately spread through the postal system, causing 22 cases of anthrax infection.

Anthrax is classified as a category A bioterrorism agent that may pose the greatest possible threat for a bad effect on public health, needs a great deal of planning to protect the public’s health and may spread across a large area or require public awareness (Bio Prep Watch, 2011).

Title: Air Force Testing New Decontamination Process
Date: July 14, 2011
Bio Prep Watch

Abstract: A retired, ground-instructional C-130 at the Little Rock Air Force Base in Little Rock, Ark., has become part of a series of tests to determine how heat and humidity affect the decontamination process for an aircraft.

"We are using a simulant (bacillus thuringiensis) that has similar properties and reacts in the same way the actual agents would; however, here are no live agents," 2nd Lt. James Reilly, the 19th Medical Group Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight commander, said. "The simulant is in no way shape or form harmful to individuals or the environment."

The tests use bacillus thuringiensis, a commercially-available insecticide, to simulate a biological agent. Officials at the base have determined that the testing procedures are safe for the flightline and for the community of the base.

"By heating the interior of the aircraft from 150 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit in conjunction with a relative humidity at 80 to 90 percent over a period of one to five days, we will gain valuable data on how to destroy biological agents without harming the aircraft," Tim Provens, an Air Force Research Laboratory project engineer at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio, said.

Staff members are testing to see if the "green" technology of heat and humidity can neutralize the environmentally safe and simulated biological warfare agent. The Air Force currently decontaminates aircraft with hot soapy water, which isn't practical for an aircraft's interior and has limited effects on anything that absorbs into the paint on the skin of an aircraft. Decontamination solutions that are typically used for buildings would be highly corrosive to thin aircraft panels and sensitive electronic equipment.

Effectiveness of the system will be determined by small detection papers coated with the environmentally-approved simulated agent and placed throughout the fuselage before being analyzed on site.
The technology has previously been demonstrated in Orlando, Fla., on a commercial aircraft (Bio Prep Watch, 2011).

Title: Small Airports On Alert For Bioterror Threat
Date: September 7, 2011
Bio Prep Watch

Abstract: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has alerted small airports and flight instructors to be on alert, warning that terrorists may try to use small aircraft loaded with chemical or biological weapons in an attack on the United States.

The director of the Gaylord Regional Airport in Northern Michigan, a typical small airport, recently said that his facility has expanded on the set Federal Aviation Administration standards to make things safer, according to

"We do have countermeasures that people have been briefed on and practice that would be what our response would be to somebody with clandestine intent to prevent that aircraft from leaving here," Matt Barresi, the airport's director, said, reports. “We're put in a position to kind of think the unthinkable and what countermeasures we can put in place."

At nearby Traverse Lakes Aviation, anyone interested in flying must first undergo a background check. Before anyone goes up in a plane, they must have their identification verified.

“We get their driver's license, social security number, pilot's license, medical certificate, all that gets copied along with a contract they have to fill out and then they go for a check ride with an instructor before they can even get in an airplane," Michael Head of Traverse Lakes Aviation said, reports.

Jeff Weiber, a pilot with North Country Aviation, a charter service, said his services have also been regulated. Passengers who book flights must also be checked.

“We have to do a TSA background check, a no-fly list, we have to check every one, I have to see a valid picture, a government ID, before I allow them on the aircraft," Weiber said, according to (Bio Prep Watch, 2011).

Title: Drone Technology Could Be Used To Spray Bioweapons
Date: October 12, 2011
Source: Bio Prep Watch

Abstract: Experts have warned that as remote-controlled drone technology produces smaller and cheaper units, terrorists could seek to use them to potentially spray biological weapons.

The U.S. military is currently the undisputed leader in drone warfare, but many world powers are quickly acquiring and adapting the technology, which presents a challenge to American security experts, according to

"I think of where the airplane was at the start of World War I: at first it was unarmed and limited to a handful of countries," P. W. Singer, the author of the book Wired for War, said, reports. "Then it was armed and everywhere. That is the path we're on."

The recent arrest of Rezwan Ferdaus, a 26-year-old man accused of plotting to fly an explosives-laden remote controlled airplane into the U.S. Capitol, shows that a scenario where an unmanned vehicle could be used to attack a city is not farfetched.

To date, only the United States, Israel and Britain are thought to have used drones for air-to-ground strikes, but more than 50 countries have bought or developed their own unmanned aerial vehicles, according to the New York Post.

The same qualities that make U.A.V.’s appealing to the Obama administration for counterterrorism make them appealing to the terrorists themselves. They can be used for surveillance or strikes, are cheap and no danger is posed to their operator, who could be located on the other side of the world (Bio Prep Watch, 2011).

Title: Organization Of American States Conducts Bioterror Simulation
Date: October 31, 2011
Bio Prep Watch

Abstract: The Organization of American States recently conducted a bioterrorist attack simulation in Santiago, Chile.

The drill, funded by the Canadian government, took place at Santiago’s Arturo Benitez international airport, according to The airport was chosen because of the large amount of air traffic that flows through it, making the city highly susceptible to airborne contagions.

Six international agencies from Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay took part in the exercise, along with 23 law enforcement agencies from Chile.

“This is being done to help us prepare formal plans or to improve emergency management and crisis for such an attack, and to promote inter-agency coordination,” Chile’s Undersecretary of the Interior Rodrigo Ubilla said, reports.

Throughout the drill, which lasted several days, a series of suspicious packages containing what appeared to be Yersinia Pestis, or the bubonic plague, were left throughout the airport. Similar packages were also left at a high-rise hotel in Santiago. The training consisted of at least one false alarm when a plane carrying a sick passenger heads for the airport.

Two days after the first “attack,” the virus appeared to have spread throughout Chile and its neighboring states. In the simulation’s final stage, the participating agencies had to coordinate an international effort to contain it.

The mock attack in Santiago is the first of three major exercises planned by the OAS. The next will take place in March.

The participating states are expected to meet to discuss overall strategies for containing an attack and planning for the additional exercises immediately after the current one ends.

“The meeting will have to do with the creation of a comprehensive public policy that addresses complex issues of our time,” Ubilla said, according to “The issues will require specific protocols and clear definitions in terms of chains of command” (Bio Prep Watch, 2011).

Title: Optimal Response Against Bioterror Attack On Airport Terminal
Date: December 30, 2011
Science Direct

Abstract: We consider a potential bioterror attack on an airport. After the attack is identified, the government is faced with the problem of how to allocate limited emergency resources (human resources, vaccines, etc.) efficiently. The government is assumed to make a one-time resource allocation decision. The optimal allocation problem is discussed and it is shown how available information on the number of infected passengers can be incorporated into the model. Estimation for parameters of the cost function (number of deaths after the epidemic is over) is provided based on known epidemic models. The models proposed in the paper are demonstrated with a case study using real airport data (Science Direct, 2012).

Title: Bomb Scare, Monkey Pox Quarantine At Two Midwest Airports
Date: April 27, 2012
Source: Fox 4 News

Abstract: Part of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport was evacuated Friday morning after a screener detected what he thought was an explosive in a piece of luggage.

Reuters reports that after interviewing the passenger and opening the luggage, security officials determined the device was not an explosive but actually a water filtration system in the passenger’s checked baggage.

“The questionable items in the bag were two PVC pipes capped at both ends filled with a granular material,” airport spokesman Patrick Hogan told Reuters. “There were also a number of wires in the bag that were not connected to the pipes.”

According to the Transportation Safety Administration, the public area of the terminal was cleared and approaching roads were closed temporarily during the incident to ensure safety.

Terminal 2 is the smaller of the airport’s two terminals, serving Southwest Airlines, AirTran, Sun Country and Icelandair. The larger Terminal 1 was not affected.

In Chicago, at Midway Airport, passengers suffered a different kind of scare.

A Delta flight was quarantined on the runway, after a concerned passenger reported a family member might have monkey pox from an earlier trip to Africa.

Medical staff reviewed the case, but passengers say they were given little information and grew upset, thinking the worst.

“You think am I going to get off this plane? Am I gonna make it back home? Am I gonna be in a suit just like the other people outside. We’re looking outside of our window and they’re suiting people up in masks and in gloves and you know you only see that stuff in the movies,” one passenger said.

“Quarantined… like tell us what could this be, is it airborne? Is it topical? Is it viral? What is it, what do you mean? Do you cover your mouth? I was not sitting next to someone, I was sitting in one seat, no one next to me. So do I feel safe? Do I not feel safe? I think my mind started playing games with me, I thought I was itching you know it is just one of those things where you’re just not sure.”

Everyone on the flight was able to leave after medical officials said the woman in question was only suffering from bug bites (Fox 4 News, 2012)

Title: Delta Flight Delayed Over Monkeypox Fears
Date: April 28, 2012

Abstract: For passengers on Delta Flight 3163, it felt like something out of a Hollywood movie: a passenger with an unknown rash, members of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigating the scene and the use of the word “quarantine” while the plane remained on the tarmac.

This is exactly what happened at Chicago’s Midway Airport Thursday as the flight from Detroit to Chicago was quarantined for nearly three hours because a woman returning from Uganda had a suspicious rash on her body.

After the two-plus hours of melee, passenger fears were quelled when it was determined that Minnesota resident, Lisa Sievers, only had a bug bite and suffered from scabies.

Unlike it’s eradicated cousin smallpox, which is strictly a human disease, monkeypox not only spreads from animal to animal but also from animals to humans.

is a relatively rare virus found primarily in central and western Africa. The disease is caused by Monkeypox virus. It is closely related to the smallpox virus (variola), the virus used in the smallpox vaccine (vaccinia), and the cowpox virus.

Infection with monkeypox is not as serious as its cousin, smallpox, however human deaths have been attributed to monkeypox.

According to the CDC, the symptoms of monkeypox are as follows: About 12 days after people are infected with the virus, they will get a fever, headache, muscle aches, and backache; their lymph nodes will swell; and they will feel tired. One to 3 days (or longer) after the fever starts, they will get a rash. This rash develops into raised bumps filled with fluid and often starts on the face and spreads, but it can start on other parts of the body too. The bumps go through several stages before they get crusty, scab over, and fall off. The illness usually lasts for 2 to 4 weeks.

People at risk for monkeypox are those who are bitten by an infected animal or if you have contact with the animal’s rash, blood or body fluids. It can also be transmitted person to person through respiratory or direct contact and contact with contaminated bedding or clothing.

There is no specific treatment for monkeypox (Examiner, 2012)

Title: Ft. Lauderdale Airport Terminal Open After Brief Evacuation
Date: May 18, 2012
CBS Miami

Abstract: A major mess due to a hazardous materials scare at the Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport Friday shut down a terminal and caused hundreds of passengers to be stranded for nearly two hours.

More than a dozen outbound flights were delayed and several inbound flights were also delayed, according to airport spokesperson Greg Meyer.

Security officials cleared Terminal 2 after airport officials say an aerosol can discharged in the security checkpoint and dozens of passengers had reactions to it. Walda Woods said she was one of the first to have a reaction.

“We just all started coughing — like a tickle in your throat and sneezing,” Woods told CBS 4′s Carey Codd, adding that she felt better as soon as she went outside.

Minutes later, Woods said, emergency workers descended on the terminal. Several people were taken to the hospital.

Officials say it’s still not clear what was sprayed or where it came from. They continue to evaluate the situation.

“The air samples have back inconclusive,” said Broward Sheriff’s Office Spokesperson Mike Jachles. “There is not anything that has been detected.”

For passengers forced to wait in a parking garage and outside the terminal, it was a challenging situation.

“It’s hot,” said Alyssa Bandoni. “There’s nowhere to sit. It’s been raining. The stairs are nasty and wet. It’s just not fun.”

Miami Dolphin running back Reggie Bush was among the stranded.

He tweeted, “Currently stuck at Ft. Lauderdale airport standing outside underneath the airport with hundreds of people. They won’t let us leave! “

Many of the stranded passengers wondered if they would ever leave the airport and complained of a lack of information by airport officials.

“It’s very frustrating and we don’t know what’s going on,” said Siri Saramout, who was headed to Washington, D.C. and was concerned about making her connecting flight.

Despite the frustration, airport officials and some travelers said in these times you can never be too careful — especially at an airport.

“I’d rather have my flight delayed and have them real thorough in there,” said Woods.

Around 7 pm, passengers were allowed back in the terminal. But the wait was not over. They had to wait in a lengthy line at the airport counter and security to get to their next destination.

An airport worker said all the flights waited for the delay to be over before taking off.

An airport spokesperson told CBS 4 News that airport officials will meet with fire rescue personnel and others on Monday to determine if the correct decision was to shut down the terminal (CBS Miami, 2012)

Title: No Confirmation On Chemical At Fort Lauderdale International Airport
Date: May 18, 2012

Abstract: Broward County authorities continue to investigate the unknown chemical that closed a terminal at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

Sheriff's Fire Rescue spokesman Mike Jachles told The Associated Press Saturday that the source has not yet been confirmed, calling it an ongoing investigation. Airport spokesman Greg Meyer said earlier that it appeared to have been an aerosol can that exploded in someone's luggage.

Terminal two, which includes the Delta Air Lines concourse, was evacuated for about two hours Friday as hazardous materials technicians investigated. Five people were sent to the hospital with respiratory complaints, including three Transportation Security Administration agents and two passengers.

Airport officials say more than 1,000 passengers and 14 departing flights were delayed.

A terminal at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport has been reopened after an unknown chemical sent five people to the hospital with respiratory complaints.

Terminal two, which includes the Delta Air Lines concourse, was evacuated for about two hours Friday as hazardous materials technicians investigated what caused several people to become ill.

Broward County Sheriff Fire Rescue spokesman Mike Jachles says three Transportation Security Administration agents and two passengers were affected by the irritant.

Investigators collected air samples and determined it was safe for people to re-enter. More than 1,000 passengers have been delayed and several inbound flights were diverted to other airports.

The cause of the incident remains under investigation, though an airport spokesman says it appears an aerosol can discharged (WPTV News, 2012)

Title: Device To Purify Water Led To Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport Terminal Evacuation
Date: June 4, 2012

Abstract: The object that prompted a weekend evacuation of the smaller of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport's two terminals turned out to be a device used for water purification, an airport official said Monday.

Airport spokeswoman Melissa Scovronski said the woman traveling with the device told authorities she needed it for medical purposes.

The device was found by Transportation Security Administration officials about 4:30 p.m. Sunday in a piece of checked baggage in Terminal 2, also known as the Humphrey terminal. The Bloomington Police Department bomb squad was called, and the airport terminal was evacuated for about two hours while authorities investigated.

Scovronski says the woman traveling with the device was heading to Anchorage, Alaska, and her flight was delayed due to the evacuation. Once police determined the luggage was hers, she was questioned, then allowed to continue with her travels.

No criminal charges were filed.

It was the second time in a little more than a month that the Humphrey terminal was evacuated for what turned out to be a water filtration device in checked luggage. The man in the previous incident also was not charged.

The Humphrey terminal handles less than 10 percent of the airport's passenger volume (, 2012)

Title: Plane Diverted To Philadelphia After Passengers Get Sick From Odor On Board
Date: July 11, 2012
Fox News

Abstract: A plane traveling from Rome to Charlotte had to make an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport because at least ten passengers became sick from a foul odor on board.

Fire department officials say five people were taken to Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and no serious injuries were reported. 

Lupica said airport police, fire and emergency crews responded and the flight landed safely.

Airline representatives did not immediately return a call seeking comment (Fox News, 2012)

Title: New Model Of Disease Contagion Ranks U.S. Airports In Terms Of Their Spreading Influence
Date: July 23, 2012
MIT News

Abstract: Public health crises of the past decade — such as the 2003 SARS outbreak, which spread to 37 countries and caused about 1,000 deaths, and the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic that killed about 300,000 people worldwide — have heightened awareness that new viruses or bacteria could spread quickly across the globe, aided by air travel. 

While epidemiologists and scientists who study complex network systems — such as contagion patterns and information spread in social networks — are working to create mathematical models that describe the worldwide spread of disease, to date these models have focused on the final stages of epidemics, examining the locations that ultimately develop the highest infection rates. 

YouTube Video

But a new study by researchers in MIT's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) shifts the focus to the first few days of an epidemic, determining how likely the 40 largest U.S. airports are to influence the spread of a contagious disease originating in their home cities. This new approach could help determine appropriate measures for containing infection in specific geographic areas and aid public health officials in making decisions about the distribution of vaccinations or treatments in the earliest days of contagion. Unlike existing models, the new MIT model incorporates variations in travel patterns among individuals, the geographic locations of airports, the disparity in interactions among airports, and waiting times at individual airports to create a tool that could be used to predict where and how fast a disease might spread.

"Our work is the first to look at the spatial spreading of contagion processes at early times, and to propose a predictor for which 'nodes' — in this case, airports — will lead to more aggressive spatial spreading," says Ruben Juanes, the ARCO Associate Professor in Energy Studies in CEE. "The findings could form the basis for an initial evaluation of vaccine allocation strategies in the event of an outbreak, and could inform national security agencies of the most vulnerable pathways for biological attacks in a densely connected world." 

A More Realistic Model
 Juanes' studies of the flow of fluids through fracture networks in subsurface rock and the research of CEE's Marta González, who uses cellphone data to model human mobility patterns and trace contagion processes in social networks, laid the basis for determining individual travel patterns among airports in the new study. Existing models typically assume a random, homogenous diffusion of travelers from one airport to the next. 

However, people don't travel randomly; they tend to create patterns that can be replicated. Using González's work on human mobility patterns, Juanes and his research group — including graduate student Christos Nicolaides and research associate Luis Cueto-Felgueroso — applied Monte Carlo simulations to determine the likelihood of any single traveler flying from one airport to another.

"The results from our model are very different from those of a conventional model that relies on the random diffusion of travelers … [and] similar to the advective flow of fluids," says Nicolaides, first author of a paper by the four MIT researchers that was published in the journal PLoS ONE. "The advective transport process relies on distinctive properties of the substance that's moving, as opposed to diffusion, which assumes a random flow. If you include diffusion only in the model, the biggest airport hubs in terms of traffic would be the most influential spreaders of disease. But that's not accurate." 

Outsize role for Honolulu

For example, a simplified model using random diffusion might say that half the travelers at the Honolulu airport will go to San Francisco and half to Anchorage, Alaska, taking the disease and spreading it to travelers at those airports, who would randomly travel and continue the contagion. 

In fact, while the Honolulu airport gets only 30 percent as much air traffic as New York's Kennedy International Airport, the new model predicts that it is nearly as influential in terms of contagion, because of where it fits in the air transportation network: Its location in the Pacific Ocean and its many connections to distant, large and well-connected hubs gives it a ranking of third in terms of contagion-spreading influence. 

Kennedy Airport is ranked first by the model, followed by airports in Los Angeles, Honolulu, San Francisco, Newark, Chicago (O'Hare) and Washington (Dulles). Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, which is first in number of flights, ranks eighth in contagion influence. Boston's Logan International Airport ranks 15th.

"The study of spreading dynamics and human mobility, using tools of complex networks, can be applied to many different fields of study to improve predictive models," says González, the Gilbert W. Winslow Career Development Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. "It's a relatively new but very robust approach. The incorporation of statistical physics methods to develop predictive models will likely have far-reaching effects for modeling in many applications." 

"Nowadays, one of the most ambitious scientific goals is to predict how different processes of great economic and societal impact evolve as time goes on," says Professor Yamir Moreno of the University of Zaragoza, who studies complex networks and spreading patterns of epidemics. "We are currently capable of modeling with some detail real disease outbreaks, but we are less effective when it comes to identifying new countermeasures to minimize the impact of an emerging disease. The work done by the MIT team paves the way to find new containment strategies, as the newly developed measure of influential spreading allows for a better comprehension of the spatiotemporal patterns characterizing the initial stages of a disease outbreak."

This work was supported by a Vergottis Graduate Fellowship and awards from the NEC Corporation Fund, the Solomon Buchsbaum Research Fund and the U.S. Department of Energy
(MIT News, 2012)

Title: When Contagion Strikes, It's Honolulu You Should Avoid
Date: July 24, 2012

Abstract: When the next outbreak of 
Sars or Swine flu hits, New York's John F Kennedy airport and Los Angeles's airports will likely be the key spreaders of disease, according to a new study. But while the influence of these super-hubs may not come as much of a surprise, the third most outbreak-friendly airport in the states is far smaller, and far less obvious – Honolulu International.

In a paper published Monday in the journal PLoS One, a team of researchers from MIT outlined a new computer model that predicts how the 40 largest American airports may contribute to the diffusion of contagious disease within the first few days of a potential epidemic.

They looked at which hubs may be key "early spreaders" because knowing where epidemics may begin is key to stemming an outbreak, Marta Gonzalez, professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at MIT, and one of the contributors to the new model, told the Guardian.

Factors other than sheer volume of travelers may contribute to the spread of disease.

 While Honolulu is neither the busiest airport in the US (that would be Atlanta International), nor even among the top 20 biggest hubs (such as Chicago O'Hare and Minneapolis St Paul, both of which featured in the film Contagion), volume is not the key factor in disease spreading. Atlanta's airport, which sees the highest volume of travelers in the US was ranked just eighth in its ability to cause contagion.

Honolulu airport "combines three important features that catalyze contagion spreading", the study reports. Its geographical positioning in the middle of the Pacific Ocean makes it a prime layover between the US west coast and large Asian hubs; it's also "well connected" to other powerful spreader airports, such as LAX; and it sees a high volume of long-range travel; all of which would help to spread a disease outbreak.

To fine-tune their new model, Gonzalez and her team analyzed cellphone data on top of passenger itineraries to determine real-world travel patterns, including layovers and re-routing.

"The spread of a disease is not random, just as human travel patterns are replicable and not random (particularly when taking into account return flights)," Gonzalez said. "We are able to create more accurate models due to our ability to analyze big data."

Though computer models may not predict precisely when or if a new outbreak will hit, they can prepare officials in high-risk areas – such as Hawaii.

"This can improve the measures for containing infection in specific geographic areas and aid public health officials in making decisions about the distribution of vaccinations or treatments in the earliest days of contagion," Gonzalez noted.

"Techniques such as multi-scale computer modelling … can make a contribution to strengthening our societies' adaptiveness, resilience, and sustainability" (Guardian, 2012)

Title: Researchers List Top 10 Airports For Spreading Disease
Date: July 26, 2012

Abstract: It may not be the coughing, sneezing passenger next to you on your next flight who is spreading disease, it could be the airport you just took off from.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Civil and Environmental Engineering department looked at the 40 largest U.S. airports and figured out which ones would be the most likely to spread a disease in the event of an outbreak in the cities they serve.

They factored in passengers' travel patterns, the airports' geographic locations, interactions between airports and even passenger waiting times for their study, published July 19 in the journal PLoS ONE.

One of the surprises in their findings was that an airport's ranking on the researchers' list was not necessarily tied to its size or busyness.

While John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and Los Angeles International Airport were first and second on the list, respectively, Honolulu International Airport ranked third, even though it carries only 30% as much traffic as Kennedy.

The researchers said that's because of Honolulu's place in the air transportation network: in the Pacific Ocean, with many connections to distant, large, and well-connected hubs.

Though Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport ranks first in the number of flights, it was eighth on the researchers' list of potential disease spreaders. Boston Logan International Airport ranked 15th.

Following Kennedy, Los Angeles and Honolulu on the list are San Francisco International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, Chicago O'Hare International Airport, and Washington Dulles International Airport. Atlanta, Miami International Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport round out the top 10.

Public health crises of the past decade, like SARS in 2003 or the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009, have highlighted how easy it is for diseases to spread around the world, including through air travel.

But existing models, the researchers said, look only at the final stages of an epidemic and the places that ultimately develop the highest infection rates.

The researchers say the new model can help determine ways to contain an infection in a specific area, and can also help public health officials made decisions about treatment and vaccines in the early days of a contagion.

"We are currently capable of modeling with some detail real disease outbreaks, but we are less effective when it comes to identifying new countermeasures to minimize the impact of an emerging disease," said Prof. Yamir Moreno of the University of Zaragoza, who studies complex networks and spreading patterns of epidemics.

"The work done by the MIT team paves the way to find new containment strategies" because it allows a better understanding of the patterns characterizing the initial stages of a disease outbreak, he said in a comment on the research.

The SARS outbreak spread to 37 countries and caused about 1,000 deaths. The H1N1 "swine flu" pandemic killed about 300,000 people worldwide (CNN, 2012)

Title: Burning Question: Do Germs Spread On Airport Security Lines?
Date: August 20, 2012
Wall Street Journal

Abstract: We live in a germy world, says William Schaffner, infectious-disease specialist and chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn. "If we went down to Times Square and began culturing people's noses, something like 10% to 20% of them carry the antibiotic-resistant staph infection MRSA," he adds.

For the most part, however, those bacteria are harmless since we all have immunities against them. Simple hygiene—showering, washing hands—"will keep the bad guys at bay," he says.

Same goes for the barefoot march through airport security. The risk of catching athlete's foot or another fungus from fellow travelers is very low.

"It's in prolonged dampness that a toe fungus can get a foothold, so to speak," says Dr. Schaffner. "So unless you're in the middle of a monsoon and the airport has flooded, you're not going to be sloshing through a sea of water and spreading foot germs." Even in the humid month of August, when sweaty feet traipse through airport security, the area is essentially a dry environment.

Still worried? Wear socks, "not sandals or flip-flops that oblige you to go barefoot through security," he says. Should your fashion sense not permit socks, then wipe your feet with disinfecting cloths after security—"although I travel quite a bit and have never seen anyone do that," he says.

Those dirty bins—where you might set your mobile phone in the same spot a road warrior just put his smelly shoes—may carry some of the typical bacteria circulating around us, but again, the risk of infection is likely to be very low.

"There is nothing in the medical literature about catching hand, foot and mouth disease or anything else from airport security," Dr. Schaffner says.

If you're one of those people who considers wearing a face mask on long-haul flights, he adds, bring a pack of disinfecting wipes or sanitizing gel and slather some over your phone before putting it to your face.

Just don't overdo it. Covering yourself in hand sanitizer and wiping down everything that comes into contact with other humans is not only impractical, it may work against you, says Dr. Schaffner. "There is a growing body of research that says that all of us benefit from exposure to the germy world," he says.

It increases our immune system and makes us more resistant to harmful germs when they do get into the wrong place. "Growing up, there was a saying that 'you've got to eat a peck of dirt.' To me that still holds true. A little germ exposure can be good for you."

So, wear socks and carry hand sanitizer, says Dr. Schaffner, "just don't obsess" (Wall Street Journal, 2012).

Title: New Show Goes Behind The Scenes At Miami Airport
Date: October 1, 2012
Fox News

Abstract: The Travel Channel has spent years telling stories about where people go, but now they’re doing a show on how people get there.

‘‘Airport 24/7: Miami’’  offers viewers a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to move more than 100,000 travelers each day through Miami International Airport.

‘‘We host a Super Bowl every day at MIA,’’ security director Lauren Stover said, comparing the number of travelers to attendance at the championship football game.

With thousands of employees running what can easily be compared to a small city, the show follows workers as they deal with terrorist threats, intercept drug smugglers, attend to medical emergencies, repair aircraft and secure an Air Force One landing, all the while trying to get the passengers to their flights and the planes in the sky on time.

‘‘This is one of many ways in which Travel Channel is trying to give viewers a different look at all aspects of travel,’’ network general manager Andy Singer said. ‘‘And we think the Miami International Airport is a fascinating way to do that.’’

The first two episodes of the show premier back-to-back at 9 p.m. Tuesday.

The idea for the show started with 2C Media owner Chris Sloan, who said he’s had a passion for commercial aviation since he was a child. His longtime hobby has been collecting photos and memorabilia from airports around the world. He’s even been maintaining a website about airports and airlines — — for nearly a decade.

‘‘I travel a lot,’’ Sloan said. ‘‘And I felt that this was a world that was much maligned.’’

Sloan said it was challenging to convince airport officials he wasn’t trying to do some kind of expose or smear job. And once MIA agreed to the show, they still had to convince multiple airlines and government agencies to give them access, Sloan said. But their patience and perseverance appeared to pay off.

‘‘Whenever you go to an airport, there are always signs that say, ‘Staff Only,’ ‘Do Not Enter,’ ‘Prohibited Area,’ ‘Alarm Will Go Off,'’’ Sloan said. ‘‘But we actually go to all those places, and that’s unique.’’

Ken Pyatt, MIA’s deputy director of operations, said he was surprised by how dramatic the show turned out to be. He said he thought the show would be more matter-of-fact in its presentation of different areas of the airport. Instead, camera crews spent several months earlier this year following employees around, showing rather than telling the types of challenges workers face on a regular basis.

‘‘I think the editing of the show is amazing,’’ Pyatt said. ‘‘How they were able to put these little vignettes together each show and actually tell four or five stories.’’

Pyatt said he particularly enjoyed a later episode that deals with Air Force One landing in Miami the same day that the budget airline Interjet is scheduled to hold an event celebrating its inaugural flight between Miami and Mexico City. The Interjet event, with celebrities and local officials set to attend, had been scheduled at least month in advance, Pyatt said. But when the president comes to town, everything else becomes secondary to that.

‘‘The best laid plans have to often be abandoned or shrunk by something that has more precedence, and we deal in that operational mode 24/7,’’ Pyatt said. ‘‘You can only prepare so much for what goes on, but to give the public a seamless experience, it really requires people to go above and beyond.’’

Improving that seamless experience for travelers has been major priority at MIA over the past few years. The airport had developed a reputation for bad customer service, and a major push was made to turn that around. Part of that push was bringing trainers from the Disney Institute to Miami to teach around 400 front-line staff, including executives, the Disney way of doing things.

‘‘That was the beginning of a lot of energy and change,’’ said Dickie Davis, who oversees customer service at MIA.

Between the Disney training and other changes, Davis said she’s proud of the progress she’s seen at the airport. And while not directly related, Davis acknowledged that improvements at MIA likely helped the show’s producers gain access to the airport.

‘‘It’s easier to let people come into your house when you've just redecorated,’’ Davis said. ‘‘And we've never looked better.’’

If there’s one thing that’s still more important than customer service at MIA, it would be security. With about 40 million passengers moving through the airport every year, Stover — MIA’s security director — said Miami is a ‘‘Category X’’ airport, meaning it’s a prime target for a terrorist attack.

Airport security is far more than the baggage screeners and officers that passengers see, Stover said. The key to effective security is having multiple layers so that if someone gets by one layer, they'll be caught by the next, she said.

Six years ago, MIA began making its 40,000 civilian employees part of the security program. Starting with a group of about 70 janitors, MIA has given its civilian employees behavioral recognition training, which helps identify suspicious behavior. Since then, civilian employees have made about 3,000 reports, dozens of which have been turned over to the FBI and immigration officials.

‘‘If you’re going to get an airport ID, then I expect you to have your eyes all around and be vigilant in what you’re doing,’’ Stover said.

Working with a film crew was challenging, Stover said, because security workers still had to do their jobs and couldn’t necessarily wait for the cameras.

‘‘They had to get it,’’ Stover said. ‘‘Because if they didn’t capture it, I certainly wasn’t going to tell the knucklehead that came to the checkpoint with a loaded firearm to turn around, walk out and come back in again so we could film them. So they had to get it right the first time.’’

Despite any temporary inconvenience, Stover said she hopes the show will let travelers know how much work goes into getting them safely to wear they need to go.

‘‘Miami has had its fair share of criticism,’’ Stover said, ‘‘and we felt it was important to show the real side of MIA’’ (Fox News, 2012).

Title: No Contagion Feared After Typhoid Scare At New Orleans Airport
October 15, 2012

An American Airlines passenger who complained of vomiting and nausea, forcing Flight 1003 to be held for nearly two hours on the tarmac at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport Monday evening, is not believed to be infected with anything contagious, including what was first feared to be typhoid fever, city and airport officials said. "The passengers were released because neither the CDC, state or local officials believed there was risk to other passengers," said Ryan Berni, spokesman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

The aircraft left Miami at 4:31 p.m., bound for New Orleans, and before it landed at 5:27 p.m. a woman complained to the flight crew that she felt sick. The crew alerted the New Orleans airport, which dispatched emergency personnel to prepare for the sick passenger's arrival. Based on the woman's symptoms, airport officials notified the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Airport officials kept the remaining 145 passengers and six crew members on the aircraft until receiving clearance from the CDC to release them at 6:50 p.m.

An East Jefferson ambulance transported the woman to a nearby hospital. Her condition has not been released.

The aircraft was cleaned, was cleared to return to use and left the airport on its scheduled route with new passengers, said airport spokeswoman Michelle Wilcut. 

American Airlines passenger Mark Steffan said he was returning to New Orleans with his wife and two children from a family wedding in Key Largo when, 15 minutes before landing in New Orleans, the captain announced there was a medical emergency on board and asked everyone to remain seated.

More than 45 minutes after landing at 5:30 p.m., the captain made a second announcement, Steffan said, this time explaining that the CDC was taking a blood sample from a woman who feared she might have typhoid fever.

"He said we're all in this together, the flight crew, the attendants, everyone aboard this plane is in the same situation," Steffan said by telephone while he was still stuck on the tarmac. "It seems like they acted quickly, and so far everybody is taking it in stride. Everything is, I wouldn't call it jovial, but there hasn't been one outburst."

The captain made a third announcement just before 6:50 p.m., telling the passengers on American Flight 1003 that they were free to go but to be sure to wash their hands and to be alert for any symptoms.

Capt. Peter Lindblom with the New Orleans Fire Department confirmed there was an incident with the flight and that he sent two firefighters to assist.

Typhoid fever is a life-threatening illness, according to the CDC. There are about 400 cases each year in the United States and 75 percent of these happen while traveling internationally. Typhoid fever remains common in the developing world, where it affects about 21.5 million persons each year.

Symptoms can include a high fever, weakness, stomach pain, headache or loss of appetite. In some cases, patients have a rash of flat, rose-colored spots. Typhoid fever is contracted by eating food or drinking beverages that have been handled by an infected person. Typhoid can be prevented and can usually be treated with antibiotics (, 2012).

Title: Airports Are A Pandemic's Best Friend
October 23, 2012
Discover Magazine

After SARS broke out in China in 2002, it reached 29 countries in seven months. Air travel is a major reason why such infectious diseases spread throughout the globe so quickly. And yet even with such examples to study, scientists have had no way to precisely predict how the next infectious disease might spread through the nexus of world air terminals—until now.

In 2010 MIT engineer Ruben Juanes set out to model the movement of a pathogen from a single site of departure to junctions worldwide. If he could predict the flow of disease from a given airport and rank the most contagious ones, government officials could more effectively predict outbreaks and issue lifesaving warnings and vaccines. So Juanes and his team used a computer simulation to seed 40 major U.S. airports with virtual infected travelers. Then they mimicked the individual itineraries of millions of real passengers to model how people move through the system. The travel data included flights, wait times between flights, number of connections to international hubs, flight duration, and length of stay at destinations.

JFK International in New York—one of the world’s most heavily trafficked airports—emerged as the biggest culprit in disease spread. Honolulu, despite having just 40 percent of JFK’s traffic, came in third because of its many long-distance flights. The biggest surprise: The number of passengers per day did not directly correlate to contagion risk.

1 New York (JFK)  JFK has over 1,000 daily flights, connecting some 200 airports in more than 60 countries. The number of international connections allows passengers here to come in contact with individuals from many points of origin, dramatically increasing the risk that infected travelers could pass disease to uninfected populations worldwide.

2 Los Angeles (LAX)  Los Angeles International has lots of traffic, supporting more than 1,400 flights a day and connecting some 55 countries.

3 Honolulu (HNL)  Honolulu International gets only two-fifths of JFK’s traffic, yet it poses a major risk because it has a high proportion of long-distance flights, links to well-connected airports, and a geographic location that encourages an equal diffusion of travelers going east and west.

4 San Francisco (SFO)

5 Newark, NJ (EWR)

6 Chicago (ORD)

7 Washington, D.C., Dulles (IAD)

8 Atlanta (ATL)  While Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International ranks first in the world for traffic (roughly 2,600 flights a day), most of these flights are regional, leaving the airport relatively unconnected to far-off locations that would boost its ability to spread infection.

Individual Itinerary
The highlighted route shows two trips, one from San Francisco to New Orleans and back, the other following the same route with a layover in Chicago. This is a typical itinerary: The traveler moves to and from a home base in a major city, either through direct flights or incorporating stopovers. Passengers remain at a destination an average of four days—a crucial data point, since a disease’s transmission rate depends on the duration of exposure (Discover Magazine, 2012).

Title: Aircraft Aerosolized With Insecticides
October 17, 2012

Disinsection is permitted under international law in order to protect public health, agriculture and the environment. The World Health Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization stipulate two approaches for aircraft disinsection--either spray the aircraft cabin, with an aerosolized insecticide, while passengers are on board or treat the aircraft's interior surfaces with a residual insecticide (residual method) while passengers are not on board. Panama and American Samoa have adopted a third method, in which aircraft are sprayed with an aerosolized insecticide while passengers are not on board.

Although the Report of the Informal Consultation on Aircraft Disinsection sponsored by the World Health Organization (November 6-10, 1995) concluded that aircraft disinsection, if performed appropriately, would not present a risk to human health, the report also noted that some individuals may experience transient discomfort following aircraft disinsection by aerosol application.

Although few countries now require that aircraft be disinsected, most countries reserve the right to do so, and, as such, could impose a disinsection requirement should they perceive a threat to their public health, agriculture or environment. Accordingly, travelers are advised to check with their travel agent or airline reservations agent when booking flights. Listed below are representatives of airlines who are knowledgeable on disinsection requirements.

The following lists of disinsection requirements were compiled from information provided by foreign governments and supplemented by information obtained from airlines.

Countries requiring the disinsection of all in-bound flights with an aerosolized spray while passengers are on board:

  • Cuba
  • Ecuador (only Galapagos and Interislands)
  • Grenada
  • India
  • Kiribati
  • Madagascar
  • Seychelles
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Uruguay

Countries requiring the disinsection of all in-bound flights but allowing, as an alternative to the above approach, either (a) the residual method or (b) the application of an aerosolized spray while passengers are not on board.

Country / Method

Australia / Residual
Barbados / Residual
Cook Islands / Residual
Fiji / Residual
5. Jamaica / Residual
New Zealand / Residual
Panama / Spraying

Countries that require disinsection of selected flights:

Country / Flight From
1. Czech Republic / Areas of contagious diseases
2. France / Areas of malaria, yellow fever and dengue fever
3. Indonesia / Infected areas
4. Mauritius / Generally, flights coming from African continent, Asia and sub regions, the Middle East and islands of the Indian Ocean, and flights coming from any other country where mosquito borne diseases are prevalent.
5. South Africa / Areas of malaria or yellow fever
6. Switzerland / Intertropical Africa
7. United Kingdom / Malarial countries
(DOT, 2012)

Title: The Germiest Surfaces On Planes And In Airports
November 14, 2012
USA Today

If you'll be among the 24 million people expected to be in an airport and on a plane this Thanksgiving holiday period, Charles Gerba, the University of Arizona microbiology professor known as "Dr. Germ," has some important travel advice for you: Pack light and carry hand sanitizer.

Gerba, whose travel souvenirs often include test swabs from airplane lavatories, has identified the three germiest spots on airplanes -- toilets, tray tables and the latches on overhead bins.

He's found the norovirus, the influenza virus, diarrhea and MRSA on airplane tray tables, which he says are rarely disinfected. The latches on overhead bins also get "lots of touching, but no cleaning."

Gerba says an average of 50 people (up to 75 on budget airlines) use the lavatory each flight and warns that even if everyone bothered to wash their hands before exiting, this is the ickiest spot on a plane. "The tap water shuts off on you when you try to wash your hands and the sink is too small for people with large hands," he said. Gerba has found that the lavatory exit door on airplanes usually has E. coli on it after a long flight.

He advises travelers to use hand sanitizer to clean their hands after leaving the lavatory or, better yet, "hold it if you can."

But don't assume you'll find complete relief once you make it to the terminal.

"If airplanes are number one, (lavatories at) airports are number two," said Gerba. He used to rank gas station restrooms high on this list, but has noticed that many service stations no longer even have restrooms available for customers.

Airport restrooms by busy gates can get messy quickly during high-traffic times, but many airports put a high priority on trying to keep those areas clean.

Charlotte Douglas International Airport has attendants in most restrooms that have received high marks (and a few YouTube video posts) for their attentiveness and good humor. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has restroom attendants stationed inside all women's restrooms in the public areas and an attendant who floats between two assigned men's restrooms. The assignment: "Clean, restock supplies and make sure everything is serviceable," said ATL spokesperson DeAllous Smith.

At Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, QR codes are posted in the restrooms encouraging customers to notify airport officials if something needs attention. And on its website, the airport outlines the custodial staff's restroom routine:

"Depending on the traffic in the various restrooms, they are given one to two thorough cleanings during the first and second shift. This includes wiping off the fixtures, mopping the floors and cleaning the mirrors, Walters said. Then, every 30 to 45 minutes, staff re-enters the restrooms to check the floors, dispensers, and trash. During the night, a deep cleaning is performed which includes scrubbing the fixtures, walls, and floors…."

The PHX custodial staff doesn't just clean restrooms, it keeps a list of fun facts about restrooms supplies, reporting that more than 32,000 miles of toilet tissue and close to 15,000 miles of paper towels are used in the restrooms annually, along with more than 6,000 gallons of hand soap.

Gerba has praise for the handy gadget that automatically changes the toilet seat covers in bathrooms at Chicago O'Hare, but adds that "the fear of butt-borne diseases is overrated."

Even the cleanest airport bathroom can be no defense against catching the flu while traveling this time of year.

"Anytime there are a lot of people in a small area, such as on a bus, in a train station, in the airport or on an airplane, there's a lot of coughing, sneezing and touching things and an increased chance for spreading germs around," says John Zautcke, medical director of the University of Illinois-Chicago Medical Clinic at O'Hare Airport.

Zautcke recommends that travelers wash their hands often, try to steer clear of the most crowded areas of airports, and get a flu shot before hitting the road.

Busy travelers who don't have time to get a flu shot at home can take care of that task before or between flights at some airports.

Through the end of the year, flu shots ($30; pertussis/whooping cough and pneumonia shots also available) are being offered at the O'Hare Medical Clinic center and at several kiosks in the terminals.

Flu shots ($35; cash only) are also available at the AeroClinic in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport's Main Terminal (Atrium Level 3) and for $25 at both the Carehere! Walk-in Clinic and Wellness Store (Concourse C) at Nashville International Airport and the Airport Health Station (Ticket Lobby "B") at Memphis International Airport.

The SFO Medical Clinic in the Departures/Ticketing Level of the International Terminal Main Hall (A side) has flu shots available for $30. In Los Angeles, Reliant Immediate Care, near the entrance to Los Angeles International Airport is offering flu shots for $25, and in New York, flu shots are available at the Airport Medical Offices at John F. Kennedy and Newark Liberty International Airport (outside the terminals, but on airport property) as well.

"People are saying it's a mild flu season," said O'Hare's John Zautcke, "But the flu season hasn't really hit, so get the vaccine while the supply is plentiful."

Charles Gerba (Dr. Germ) agrees. "If you're at an airport and you have the opportunity, get in line"  (USA Today, 2012).

Title: CBS 11 Investigates: How Dirty Is Your Plane?
November 19, 2012

Abstract: Serratia Plymuthica. Brevundimonas diminuth. Enterobacter asburiae. Klebsiella.

Do you know what these are? Well, you may have been sitting next to them on your last airplane flight?

These big words are the names of germs. CBS 11 found these bacteria breeding on planes after we randomly swabbed 10-surfaces on two planes.

“We found roughly 3000 bacteria on this plate,” said Microbiologist Karen Deiss of Armstrong Forensic Laboratory in Arlington. “The door was kind of filthy.”

And then there was the seat tray. “That’s klebsiella.” Klebsiella is a stringy mucus-like bacteria we swabbed off a tray table. Looking down at the petri dish with a small, wet, mold looking white blob, Deiss said, “It’s really gross looking on the plate.”

But our researchers agreed, the most disgusting find came from inside the seat pocket.

Enterobacter asburiae. “Actually all of the bacteria we generated from this plate were associated with the human gut.” Deiss did say the “human gut!”

“A lot of these bacteria that live in our gut ended up pretty concentrated on the backseat of the chair,” explained Deiss.

Dr. Charles Gerba, the University of Arizona microbiology professor known as “Dr. Germ,” is constantly warning travelers to use hand sanitizer and avoid the bathrooms on planes. In the last six years, he’s collected more than 100-samples and found viruses such as influenza, MRSA, and diarrhea. And he’s found them swiping all the same places we swiped.

Dr. Gerba tells CBS 11 our findings prove airplanes are not cleaned enough. He says bacteria likely lurked in the same place we found bacteria.

“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.”

Dr. Cedric Spak, Infectious Disease Specialist at Baylor University Medical Center of Dallas, says don’t panic even though it does all sound “sick.”

“Some of the bacteria that I’ve looked at here are consistent with what we found in urine or stool in normal people,” explained Dr. Spak as he reviewed the lab reports we showed him.

Dr. Spak also told us how something that you might normally find in a place like the toilet could possibly end up in an airplane seat pocket.

“It is all the same type of bacteria that lives down under the belly button. 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.”

It may sound awful, but Dr. Spak says it’s all actually pretty normal.

“We are in a dirty world. We are supposed to be.”

Dr. Spak says viruses can transmit from solid surfaces, but they will not live long on places like magazines or tray tables (CBS DFW, 2012).