There are many contemporary stories of illness and pestilence that might make you think twice about travel.  SARS, H1N1, H5N1, and the resurgence of bed bugs (our last blog entry) are just some of the hazards of the road.  The NY Times recently ran an excellent article about staying well while flying.

Germs On Planes
How do you avoid getting ill on a flight? Become a germ freak or a germaphobe!

What are some germaphobe suggestions?

  • Travel with disinfectant wipes and wipe down the cushions, armrests and tray table before you settle in.
  • Never touch the in-flight magazines, in fact touch as few things as possible while in the plane.
  • Avoids using the restroom if at all possible (they are a treasure trove of germs!).
  • Whenever possible avoid sitting next to someone and never sit in a middle seat surrounded by….well, people!

There are also a growing number of products catering to traveling germaphobes. Product include including disposable facemasks, antiseptic spritzers, airline seat covers and portable air purifiers.  Or what about the “high-tech” products available in travel publications such as a recent Magellan’s catalog which has a whole section on health and hygiene. This includes the Nano UV Scanner, which, according to the catalog, uses ultraviolet light to kill germs on airplane tray tables, hotel bedding and TV remote controls. Or what about Flight Spray, a “natural antiseptic” made with turmeric root that “helps prevent viral infections by creating an unsuitable environment for inhaled germs to reproduce”.   Or don’t forget your own “mini-air supply” for a mere $135 (which are not legal on all airlines, check with your carrier first!).

Other products that are out there:

  • Personal air purifiers
  • Cover slips that fit over airplane seats to reduce exposure to germs.
  • “Dreamsacks” (Hotel bed slips) – clean sheets whenever you travel – never worry about cleanliness of hotel sheets again

In 2007, Charles P. Gerba, a professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona, swabbed airplane bathrooms and tray tables on eight flights to see what bugs might be lurking onboard. OMG is all I can say!

  • Four out of six tray tables tested positive for the superbug methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and norovirus.
  • Most of the bathrooms he swabbed had E. coli bacteria. Thirty percent of sinks, flush handles and faucet handles had E. coli
  • 20 percent of toilet seats had E. coli.

Many airlines deep-clean their planes only every 30 days on average, washing seat covers and carpets and scrubbing lavatories, bins and tray tables.   Gulp! Remember, cold and flu viruses can survive up to 72 hours on plastic surfaces while noroviruses can survive for two to four weeks.

There are some very simple things you can do to stay well that won't send you to a specialized store or catalog!

What is your best bet to avoid getting ill?  Wash your hands frequently, liberal use of hand sanitizers or disinfectant wipes can also help ward off disease. And of course, avoid touching your face which helps introduce pathogens in or near your airway.