Avoiding In-Flight Disease Greatly Depends on These Crucial Facts

Stepping foot into an airport feels like you automatically expose yourself to a cesspool of disease and rightfully so considering over 2.5 million people stroll through U.S. airports every single day. Toss in the actual airplane travel, and you have yourself a recipe for vacation disaster. Plus, the recirculating air situation seems to be the ideal breeding ground for infectious diseases to fester and spread.

Oddly enough, your risk factor for catching some kind of infectious disease, like the flu, is lower than you may think. There are, however, crucial pieces of information you should know. Follow along to find out the facts.

1. The surgical mask isn’t very stylish, but it’s a good start

It definitely reduces your chances of getting sick. | Imtmphoto/iStock/Getty Images

The surgical mask is less than appealing to everyone involved, but if you’re looking to avoid the spread or contraction of the flu, then great. Wear the mask. Studies do show that surgical masks greatly reduce your chances of catching an airborne disease, especially when coupled with alcohol-based hand sanitizer. But let’s face it, there are a host of travelers who simply will not be wearing a surgical mask.

Next: Your mother always told you to do this.

2. Your hand washing hygiene is crucial

Person washing their hands

Make sure you wash your hands as often as possible. | iStock/Getty Images

If you do one single thing to avoid the spread and contraction of infection, it has to be washing your hands. The method is proven to be the most effective path to reducing infections — whether it is the common cold or the flu. When it comes to traveling via airplane, avoid touching your face with unwashed hands at all costs. Those tray tables, armrests, and seatbelts are teeming with germs.

Next: This is the crucial fact you must know.

3. Infectious diseases only spread about 3 feet

airplane with passengers on seats waiting to take off

Hope you’re not sitting next to someone who’s sick. | AwaylGl/iStock/Getty Images

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences research now suggests that no matter what you do to protect yourself from in-flight infection, the primary determining factor of catching a disease is where you’re sitting on the flight. Catching influenza is slim unless you are seated within three feet of an infected carrier. That means travelers have an 80 percent higher chance of catching the flu if seated directly in front, behind, or next to the carrier.

Next: Even if you aren’t sitting next to someone with the flu, this will increase your chances of getting sick.

4. Your infection odds go up if you get out of your seat

You’re better off staying in your seat. | SanneBerg/iStock/Getty Images

When it comes to getting out of your seat, choose wisely. If you are part of the 40 percent of travelers who never get out of their seat mid-flight, the chances of becoming infected remain very slim. However, the other 40 percent who get out of their seats at least once, automatically up the odds of becoming sick. Additionally, the 20 percent moving about the cabin twice or more during flight are simply playing with flu fire.

Next: This will greatly lower your chances of becoming ill. 

5. Shorter flights equal lower risk for infection

Women sitting on an airplane

Shorter flights reduce your risk.  | iStock/Getty Images

Let’s face it — this is not rocket science. Longer flights, especially of the international variety, automatically up your odds of catching someone else’s airborne illness. Therefore, shorter flights greatly reduce your chances of contracting the flu. So, if you are able to hang tight in your seat for those shorter flights, the likelihood of remaining healthy and unaffected is high.

Next: Crew members that don’t call in sick could wreak havoc. 

6. Infected crew members can infect 4.6 passengers per flight

Stewardess talking to passenger

Beware of the sniffling flight attendant. | Ruben Ramos/iStock/Getty Images

Travelers enjoy their complimentary beverage service, but only if it comes without a threat to their health and well-being. The chances of an infected crew member opting out of calling in sick with the flu are slim, but if it were to happen, the crew member has the potential to infect at least 4.6 passengers per flight. Let’s hope airlines are providing their employees with ample sick days.

Next: The other thing your mother always recommended.

7. Hydration helps

Food in airplane

Try and stay well hydrated. | urobanks/iStock/Getty Images

A dehydrated body is a ticking time bomb for sickness, whether it be the flu or the common cold. For starters, proper hydration allows the mucous membranes of the nose to maintain a strong defense against all the germs flying around the air. So while your in-flight seat selection may be the most crucial part of the wellness equation, staying hydrated and keeping your hands clean are your second lines of defense.

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