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How to stay healthy when traveling on a plane

Improving the rate of hand washing at airports could significantly slow the spread of a viral disease, researchers estimate.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The novel coronavirus has infected thousands of people.  Most respiratory and cold viruses like coronaviruses and flu spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

The best way to protect yourself from getting sick is to cut down your exposure to germs.  This can be a challenge when you are sharing space for many hours with hundreds of travelers on a plane.

Will the recirculating air on an airplane make you sick?

Chances are the planes air supply will not make you sick with a serious infection. According to flight experts. The filters used to clean the air are replaced every few months and are the same quality filters used in hospitals.

The manufacturers of these filters claim the air is guaranteed to be at least 95 percent free of viruses and other particles.

The bad news, is the risk of infection comes directly from people.  One sick passenger could make many other people sick when their infected saliva or mucus lands on surfaces like seats, headrests, arm rests, seatbelts or tray tables.

The hands are the most common and easiest way to spread germs. Therefore, the best defense to protect yourself and everyone around you is to wash them.

However, a new study reveals that about 80 percent of travelers have dirty hands.

The findings, which deal with infectious diseases in general including the flu, were published in late December, just before the recent coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, but the study’s authors say that its results would apply to any such disease and are relevant to the current outbreak.
           
They also say the spread of contagious diseases could be significantly cut if travelers at just 10 major airports around their world washed their hands properly.

The findings are consistent with recommendations made by both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. Both have indicated that hand hygiene is the most efficient and cost-effective way to control diseases from spreading.

Does where you sit on a plane affect your risk of getting sick?  

If you want to take it a step or seat further, a study lead by Emory researchers found most passengers got up from their seats at some point during the flight. Those seated in window seats were least likely to move from their seats. Only 43 percent of those seated in the window got up, as opposed to 80 percent of those in the aisle. Therefore, these passengers are less likely to interact with other passengers and less likely to pick up their germs.

Last, be careful what you touch.           

You may not be able to control other travelers, but you can take matters in your own hands by disinfecting your airplane seat before you get comfortable.

Use an antibacterial wipe with alcohol to wipe down everything in your personal space including
including the tray table, arm rest, seat-belt handle, air vents and lights.        

You may also want to keep your personal items and snacks close to you and avoid the handy back of the seat pocket all together.   Not only are they touched by thousands of people, they are commonly used as storage space for dirty tissues, bags and diapers.