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Germs On Planes: 15 Tips For Flying Flu-Free This Season

Dec 20 2013, 9:16am CST | by

Germs On Planes: 15 Tips For Flying Flu-Free This Season
Photo Credit: Forbes

Maybe you’ve noticed over the years that every plane trip seems to end with a cold or bout of the flu. Is there a connection? Well, yes, just as there is in any situation that puts many people in close proximity in an enclosed place for a long period of time.

While the modern airplane ventilation systems on larger planes are much improved, research by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that nothing can stop a sneeze from reaching you within two seats in any direction from someone who’s sick.

And researchers at the University of Victoria in Canada used health records and statistical analysis to conclude that air passengers were 113 times more likely than the general population to come down with a cold in the week after a five-hour flight. According to the study, published in the Journal of Environmental Health Research, possible culprits include recirculated air, close proximity of passengers, and most importantly lack of humidity.

One more thing: the air isn’t your only concern. Rhinoviruses, the germs responsible for the common cold, can survive for up to three hours on surfaces like railings, door handles, armrests, tray tables, and seat pockets, reports the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

As always, the secret to self-protection is to be prepared. Here are 15 ways to germ-proof yourself while you fly.

1. Irrigate your nose with saline nasal solution or mist  (There are specific products for this purpose, such as Flight Mist, but any drugstore product will do)

2. Use your sleeve, a tissue, or a paper towel to protect your hand when touching doorknobs and handles. (It goes without saying that you also need to wash your hands frequently.)

3. Don’t touch your eyes – research shows the tear ducts are a primary transmission route for germs into the nose and throat.

4. Remove your contacts when you fly to prevent dry eyes.

5. Bring disinfectant wipes and wipe down armrests and tray tables. (Yes, health experts now say don’t use antibacterial soaps, but a wipe-down can’t hurt in this situation.)

6. Sleep on the plane – you probably skimped before you left, and sleep is the key to a strong immune system.

7. Bring your own blanket and pillow (or at least pillowcase) – it’s just best to be sure.

8. Hydrate well; drink a bottle of water before you board and more water in-flight.

9. Don’t drink coffee or black tea while you fly; both are dehydrating.

10. Skip the airport bar – alcohol is dehydrating and also interferes with deep sleep.

11. If possible, change seats if someone is coughing on you – would you rather be considered impolite or get sick?

12. Choose the exit row on crowded flights – you’ll put more space between you and your fellow passengers.

13. Send back cooked food if it’s not hot – the FDA has warned of food-borne bacteria on planes.

14. Don’t close your vent – fresh air is your friend, and blowing air can help clear germs out of your airspace.

15. Speak up if you’re stuck on the runway with the ventilation system off. One case study found that 72 percent of the passengers kept on a plane for three hours without fresh air got sick within two days of the flight – all from one fellow passenger with the flu.

Do you have more tips to share for safe flying this holiday season? Please leave a comment.

And for more health news, follow me here on, on Twitter, @MelanieHaiken, and subscribe to my posts on Facebook.

Source: Forbes

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