Researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health have found antibiotic-resistant bacteria on the surfaces, and in the air in cars traveling behind trucks loaded with broiler chickens headed for market.
The germs were even found in a can of soda in one car.
And it didn't matter whether the windows were open or closed.
The Delmarva Peninsula, including Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, has one of the highest concentrations of poultry farms anywhere in America.
The chickens are generally transported in open crates on flatbed trucks, with no effective barrier to keep the bacteria from the environment. Previous studies have reported that the crates become contaminated with bacteria and chicken feces.
The Hopkins scientists collected air and surface samples from cars driving 2 to 3 car lengths behind the poultry trucks for 17 miles. Air samples collected inside the cars showed higher levels of bacteria, including drug-resistant ones, that could be inhaled.
Study leader Ana M. Rule, Ph.D. said, "We were expecting to find some antibiotic-resistant organisms, since it's pretty clear that the transportation conditions for these chickens are not closed or contained.
"Our study shows that there is a real exposure potential, especially during the summer months, when people are driving with the windows down; the summer is also a time of very heavy traffic in Delmarva by vacationers driving to the shore resorts."