vent, catch a cold

Are you likely to catch a cold, the flu or some other infectious disease when you get on an airplane? A lot of people believe that the close quarters in the cabin make it very easy to pick up a bug.

How to Reduce the Chance You Will Catch a Cold:

A new study that involved observation and measurement of air on ten different flights suggests that air travel is not really as risky in terms of infection as many people think (Hertzberg et al, PNAS, March 19, 2018). There are some precautions that make sense, however.

Choose a Window Seat:

To reduce the chance you will catch a cold or the flu, select a window seat and don’t get up and move around during the flight. Of course, this strategy will work best if the person next to you is healthy. The risk of catching a transmissible infection is greatest for those sitting within two seats and two rows of an individual who is ill. Taking an aisle seat will expose you to a lot more people moving around, and thus to more individuals who might be sick.

Stay Home If You Are Sick:

The research included several flights during flu season, but only one person on all those airplanes was coughing. If it is possible to avoid traveling while you are ill, that is better for you and also for all the other folks you would otherwise encounter.

Wipe Tray Tables and Door Handles with Alcohol:

If you use your tray table, sanitize it with an alcohol wipe. Germs can hang out for days on surfaces like tray tables or lavatory door handles. Nonetheless, samples of the seat-belt buckles did not turn up frightening contamination.

Air travel can disrupt people’s usual health routines, including mealtimes and sleep patterns. Some people may become more susceptible to infection under that type of stress. These precautions might be even more important for them.

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  1. Ron

    Not getting up and moving around is bad advice, in that it increases the risk of deep vein thromboses, which can be much more dangerous than most respiratory infections. I know that personally, having had a pulmonary embolism following a long flight. Fortunately, my
    result was only temporary debilitation and not death.

  2. JP

    On my last 2 flights, a person near me was coughing WITHOUT EVEN COVERING THEIR MOUTH. None of us passengers had any protection at all!

  3. Gloria
    Port St. Lucie, FLA

    Some time ago after catching a head cold while traveling, my doctor told me to take echinacea the day before getting on a plane, the day on the plane, and for one day afterward. I’ve followed this advice for years and never caught a cold on an airplane since.

  4. Emory

    As a much younger person, I could go into a bar and catch a nasal infecton. A long flight would do the same. It was so frequent, I could call my doctor and say that I had it again, and he would call in an antibiotic. A close friend, choir director, and neighbor worked with children for years without getting sick. Following his example and suggestions, I began spraying saline solution in my nostrils several times a day: after being with people, before breakfast, in the car after leaving a meeting, every hour or so on a plane, after lunch, before bedtime etc. My sinus problems stopped, and the last 20 years have been almost cold/infection free.

    I asked my GP if he believed in saline solution, his reply was, “I make my own.” He calls it a miracle drug. His brother is an ENT. The other friend makes his own, and I make my own. If I get up in the morning with a slight sore throat, I feel both sides to find which side is sore and tilt my head back with my mouth open; the saline solution is held upside down, and a stream is sprayed down the nostril on the sore side until it burns. That is the end of that sore throat. We reuse the saline nasal spray bottles and refill using sea salt, soda, and distilled water that is also boiled after all ingredients have been added. Everything is disassembled and washed in 91% alcohol. All is done on new paper towels off the roll. The formula can be found on the internet.

  5. Joe
    Buffalo NY

    Four years ago I lost my sense of smell and taste. It was somewhat gradual (3 months). Since that time I have had a balloon sinuplasty and a complete surgical cleanup of my sinuses in a second surgery including removal of nasal polyps. The doctors say they have nothing more to offer.
    I was curious as to whether you have any articles on this problem? I am 69 and removing taste and smell is a serious condition for me. Thank you.

  6. Mary

    Perhaps some recommendations for immune system help before a plane trip?
    Staying home is not always an option.

  7. Karen
    Dallas, TX

    Wear a mask for two reasons: to protect yourself from others’ illness and to help keep your nasal passages from drying out. Use a saline spray frequently.

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