Worry not - or just worry a little less, say experts. While some people are concerned about the spread of germs while flying, the risks of exposure actually are comparable to those you may incur everyday. And, taking precautions onboard can increase the odds that you'll stay healthy.
The fact is that you probably run no greater risk of catching a cold from someone onboard than you do from the guy at work in the next cubicle. Most of today's aircrafts use filters that effectively trap bacteria, fungi and viruses before the air recirculates. Air quality is carefully controlled. During a 2-hour commercial jet flight, one study showed that the increased risk of catching a cold was negligible.
That said, air travelers do face some increased infection risks. Space confinement, limited ventilation, prolonged exposure times and recirculating air all make the spread of upper respiratory tract infections more likely. But this is the case whether you're in a plane, bus, theater or office building. In other words, it's not the air quality in the plane cabin that poses a problem. It's your closeness to others onboard who may carry an infection.
How infection spreads
Sure, bacteria and viruses can spread from one passenger to another. That possibility goes up if the air-conditioning in the plane is turned down for a while during a takeoff delay. The added stress of traveling may also wear down your resistance to illness.
Sitting near someone who is coughing, sneezing or sick also raises your chance of catching something. But remember that all surfaces around you on a plane can be contaminated - not just the air. Contact with tray tables, seat backs, arm rests and blankets can also spread germs.
If you have a pre-existing health problem, you are more vulnerable to infection. In this case, talk to your doctor before you plan a plane trip. The risk of contagion is greatest for people with chronic bronchitis, asthma, emphysema, allergies or a weakened immune system.
Make sure you are vaccinated before you fly. This can eliminate your risk of getting the flu, whooping cough, measles, mumps or chicken pox from another passenger.
Bon voyage, but take care
You can minimize your risk of catching an airborne infection by taking these precautions:
- Choose a flight that is not as full, if you can.
- Report any unpleasant odors or stuffy air. Ask the flight attendant to see if ventilation can be increased.
- Ask to change your seat if someone next to you is sick.
- Keep your nasal membranes moist. The air in planes is very dry. This dries out membranes in upper airways where viruses begin to grow. Use nasal saline spray to keep your nasal area moist. Try to wait till after your flight to take any antihistamine, if possible, since it also dries out mucous membranes.
- Minimize contact with surfaces that may carry germs - from tray tables to overhead bins.
- Wash your hands frequently during a long flight and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Get fresh air. If your flight has a stop-over, get off the plane. Or take a short walk outside before a transfer.
- Relax. Pack ahead of time and leave for the airport early. Stress makes you more vulnerable to illness.
- Stay home if advised to by your doctor because of a weak immune system or other illness.
If you are the one who is coughing or sneezing in-flight, cover your nose and mouth to prevent the spread of germs. Everyone should buy sildenafil also be considerate of fellow passengers by not wearing strong perfume, hair spray or after-shave when flying.