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Don’t catch that flu! 10 tips for staying healthy on a plane

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Settling into your airplane seat is an exciting moment for any traveller — the promise of adventure and the thrill of what’s on the other side — but with it comes the realization that you’re trapped for hours in a tiny airtight cabin teeming with germs and a potential promise of a runny nose. Now is the time to let your inner germaphobe come out and do what you can to bolster yourself against cold and flu viruses. Here’s how.

1. Sip Water

Not only does water counter the dehydrating effect of air travel, which can cause stomach aches, muscle cramps and headaches, but it also supports your natural immune mechanisms. Humidity drops at high elevations and dries up the mucous in our nose and throat, crippling our first-defense germ-catching system. Sipping water throughout a flight (as opposed to drinking large quantities all at once) keeps everything moist and more likely to get those germs (and flush them out) before they get you.

2. Protect Your Nose

One way a cold virus travels is through the air and with everybody sharing the same air in the airplane’s cabin you can’t be sure the air you’re breathing is pure and clean. Using a saline nasal solution or nasal mist will maintain the moisture in your nasal passages, which will once again boost your body’s ability to deal with incoming, airborne germs. Alternatively, swab a little Vaseline inside your nostrils to help keep them from drying out.

3. Wash Your Hands…Often

When it comes to hand hygiene, antibacterial hand gels are a great backup but they’re no substitute for regular ole soap and water. When travelling, hand washing shouldn’t be limited to before eating or after going to the washroom. If there’s an opportunity to properly wash your hands (agitate with soap for 30 seconds and rinse with hot water) — either heading to your gate or on the plane itself — take it, and avoid a whole host of holiday-ruining illnesses: vomiting, diarrhea, vomiting, gastroenteritis, food poisoning, flu, norovirus, MRSA and even hepatitis A.

4. Drink Hot Drinks

Sipping water and nasal sprays are great at keeping our germ-flushing immune systems working well — now we’re adding hot drinks into the mix. Sure, they keep us hydrated but it’s the heat that’s the real healer — it trips our mucous-membrane system into high gear. Bonus: The steam from the cup also provides direct moisture. But avoid caffeinated bevvies as they can actually dehydrate — and keep you up if you want to catch some Zs.

5. Wear A Face Mask

We already know that airborne germs are one the top ways to get a cold virus infection, so one of the easiest ways to avoid getting it in the first place is to wear a medical mask (found at most pharmacies). Now, this may not be everyone’s cup of tea (and it would make drinking a cup of tea that much more difficult) but if prevention is the best medicine, this is an effective one.

6. Wipe It Down

Here’s something to consider: According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the U.S., the rhinoviruses that cause the common cold can live up to three hours on surfaces. So that armrest, TV control panel, tray table and magazine folder could be crawling with a past passenger’s cough cloud. Yes, it is incredibly gross but a thorough wipe down of your seating area with an alcohol or antibacterial wipe should clear it up nicely — strangers’ looks be damned. Also, keep personal items such as eyeglasses and tissues out of the seat pocket.

7. Fresh Air

While cabin temperatures tend to be on the chilly side, resist the urge to close your overhead air vent. Most planes are equipped with an air-filtering system that can actually reduce the transmissions rates of cold and flu viruses. Keeping it open and blowing can also help to push away germs that may have floated close to you from a nearby passenger. If a plane is delayed on the ground and the air system is turned off, be mindful that the FAA states passengers must be disembarked at the 30-minute mark.

8. Beware Other Passengers

If someone is hacking up storm in the seat beside you sorry, but your chances of catching that same nasty cold just went up — by a lot. The U.S.’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published a study in 2009 showing that people sitting within two seats of a sick passenger were at a 7.7 per-cent risk of getting infected, while those sitting two rows away were only at 3.6 per cent. What can you do? Ask a flight attendant if you can move. Either be honest or volunteer to take an exit row or move so a family can sit together. And if you brought that mask, put it on now. 

9. Get Vaccinated

Whenever you have a chance to protect yourself against an illness, common sense says it’s a good idea. Keeping up with your regular vaccinations is part of that but also getting a yearly flu shot which will help protect you and those more vulnerable than you who are also riding that plane. If you’re going to a country that requires extra shots, get those done within the recommended timeframe too so you have the right amount of immunities before boarding the place.

10. Inspect Food

This probably won’t come as a huge surprise but sometimes the food served on airplanes isn’t the highest quality — airline-caterer horror stories involving cockroaches and flies have been floating around in the ether for ages. Make sure the food you’re eating in that complimentary meal is piping hot — heat kills off food-borne bacteria — and if it’s not, send it back. Or better yet, bring your own food and avoid taking that risk altogether.

Now that you’ve been armed with the knowledge on how to keep those microscopic creepy crawlies at bay, enjoy that sickness-free getaway!

Originally posted October 2016

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