Traveling from sunny Florida to colder climes always presents a problem with getting sick. I take all the precautions I can to be resilient but every now and again, I succumb. On my most recent trip to England, I happened to be staying with family who both had a throat infection when I arrived. Given that touch is the most common way to transfer germs, I couldn’t exactly wear a Hazmat suit as I arrived on their doorstep. Nor did I feel inclined to insult my hosts by disinfecting all flat surfaces or asking them to wear gloves while preparing my meals.
Five days later my voice disappeared. In all fairness, I’d also undertaken 11 hours of flying to get there. If I’d taken my own advice better, what could I have done? Here’s an excerpt from my upcoming book “Mile High and Healthy: The Frequent Traveler’s Roadmap to Eating, Energy, Exercise and a Balanced Life.”
“Travelers often complain that they have picked up a cold or flu after flying. I’ve certainly blamed the odd cold on fellow passengers. Confined spaces, reused blankets and pillows and proximity to other passengers over the course of several hours mean exposure from breathing, coughing and sneezing as germs are released into the air.
You can easily catch a cold by sharing an office, train, bus or room with infected people. However, a 2004 study in the Journal of Environmental Health Research revealed that twenty percent of passengers reported colds five to seven days after a two and a half hour flight.
According to Mariana Calleja, M.D. and founder of travelthy.com , ‘Touch is the most common way to get infected during air travel. For example, everyone without exception has some kind of contact with other people’s germs whenever they go to the toilet and grab the door handle, or when they touch seat heads as they walk through the aisle during flight, or when they are talking to a hotel’s front desk staff, exchanging documents and waiting with arms on the counter during the check-in process.’ Dr. Calleja says the simplest way to avoid infection is to wash one’s hands as often as possible.
By the way, it’s wise to monitor yourself for a few days after a trip because symptoms of ailments may not appear immediately. Continue to hydrate and look for signs such as digestive trouble, unexplained fevers or headaches and skin reactions.
Proximity to others is the primary factor that causes germs to spread. There is a misconception at large that the recirculating air in the aircraft cabin is to blame. A 2002 study by the Aerospace Medical Association concluded that there was “no evidence that organisms pass from one person to another through the aircraft ventilation system.” Note that in newer aircraft fifty percent of the air in the cabin is recirculated and passes through filters that remove bacteria, fungi and most viruses. The other fifty percent of the air comes from outside. This evidence about the ventilation system was corroborated by further studies in 2010.
A 1997 study in the European Respiratory Journal suggests that low humidity impairs your ability to resist germs because the mechanism that protects against colds slows down or stops when there is low humidity. This would be your Mucociliary Clearance System which traps viruses and bacteria before moving them from the nose and throat to destruction in the stomach. When dry, the mucus becomes too thick to be moved by the cilia (little hairs) that normally push it along. The infectious bodies hang around and you get sick. This is another most excellent reason to stay hydrated. “
Mile High and Healthy: The Frequent Traveler’s Roadmap to Eating, Energy, Exercise and a Balanced Life will be available for purchase from December 7th. To reserve your copy, please click here.