Studies have shown that more than one in five people who travel on planes suffer from a cold or the flu after the flight. So what’s the cause of this post-flight sickness? And how can we avoid getting sick when we fly?
Here is the Skyscanner Australia guide to staying healthy when flying.
Apart from a severe bout of turbulence, or a cabin packed with crying babies, there’s nothing more disconcerting than sitting close to someone on a plane who insists on sniffing or who can’t stop sneezing. You can almost see the microbes coming your way.
Bacteria on planes.
Many people insist that airplanes are plagued with bacteria and viruses that are out to get them. They are on the armrests, in the seat pockets, all over the magazines, lurking in the toilet cubicles, and hovering in the air, ready to pounce. And, to some extent, they are right.
Microbiologists have tested planes and found that germs are commonplace, and can survive for hours or days after the passenger who brought them on board has departed.
Some of the 200 or so viruses that can cause the common cold can infect people for up to 18 hours after they have left the body, and flu viruses can infect people for up to eight hours after being let loose.
As well as causing the common cold and influenza, these bugs and viruses can cause everything from skin diseases and upset stomachs. Studies have found MRSA and E. Coli can live on the plane for over a week.
Where are the dirtiest places on a plane?
- Tray table
- Overhead air vents
- Toilet flush buttons
- Seatbelt buckles
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How germs and bacteria can spread on planes.
Modern planes typically use a combination of fresh and recirculated air, and some people believe that a plane’s air-conditioning system can help spread germs. But research suggests that this is not true.
A 2013 report conducted for the Federal Aviation Administration in the US concluded that while fresh air is germ-free at high altitudes, aircraft HEPA filters effectively remove bacteria and viruses, as well as dust and fungi.
However, there could be a greater risk of exposure when the aircraft is parked at the gate,when auxiliary power units generally provide ventilation rather than the aircraft’s own system. This helps germs to spread through the cabin more easily.
Another culprit could be the low relative humidity of cabin air. The typical relative humidity on planes is around 11 per cent. Some research suggests that low humidity interrupts the Mucociliary Clearance System, which consists of a thin layer of mucus and tiny hairs in the nose. This protective system traps viruses and bacteria and moves them from the nose to the throat, where they are swallowed and destroyed by acid in the stomach.