Can flying make you sick?

In a recent article by Gizmodo, “How a Virus Spreads Through an Airplane Cabin” looks at the misconception that traveling b plane increased our chances of getting sick. What the latest research suggests is it really depends on where we sit.

New research published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that airline passengers infected with influenza—a disease that spreads through the air—aren’t likely to infect other passengers who sit more than two seats to the left or right or more than two seats in front or back. In other words, your chances of contracting the flu from an infected passenger are slim—unless you’re sitting within about three feet (one meter) of them.

The study was also interesting in what it revealed about seat designations and passenger movement, which is important because the more a passenger moves around a plane, the greater chance they have to come into contact with germs; or if they’re infected, the more chances they have to spread the germs. Approximately 40 percent of passengers never leave their seats during transcontinental flights, another 40 percent get up at least once, and 20 percent get up two or more times. About 40 percent of passengers who sit next to the window will get up, compared to 60 percent in a middle seat and 80 percent with an aisle seat. Passengers who got up did so for an average of five minutes.

So the rate of disease transmission is low, at least on short flights and on planes with a single, central aisle. But if this is the case, why do we seem to get sick so often when we travel?

“Some transmissions may have occurred while waiting in the airport, while boarding, or while deplaning,” write the authors in the study. “Alternatively, some passengers may have been infected by other sources before or after the flight. Three of the five flights in these case reports range from 9.5 to 14 [hours], providing many more opportunities for transmission.”

This study should encourage people who are ill—both passengers and crew—to stay home when they are ill. And that the most effective way to protect yourself from illness is to wash your hands.

Read the full article here

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