In the 2011 movie, Contagion, viewers see exactly how easy it is for a virus to hop a plane, subway or train and move through the population of one city, to one country, and onto another country and continent. It’s a terrifying look at how quickly and easily an epidemic can spread and how little we think about the ways our actions when we leave the house can increase our chances of catching something and bringing it home to our families.
As the flu reaches epidemic levels in the U.S. this year, it’s important to understand exactly how you can avoid it while still keeping your travel schedule intact.
Planes and the Influenza Virus
In 2010, ABC Health & Wellbeing reported that air travelers might have a 1 to 3 percent greater chance of catching flu than those who aren’t travelling by air during flu season. The increase, they found, is likely more due to proximity than to breathing recycled air. This is a relatively low percentage, but if you’re one of the 10 people who gets sick on a 500-passenger flight, that’s going to be some cold comfort.
While there is only a slightly increased chance of getting sick on a fight than on the ground, it’s well worth learning how to minimize that risk before you board.
According to Yahoo Health, not being sufficiently hydrated while travelling by plane can mean that the bacteria and viruses hanging out in your nose and throat never make it to the stomach for removal. Try to push this thought aside by guzzling a bottle of water before your flight, some more during the journey, and even more after landing.
Avoid the Onboard Restroom
After drinking all that water, you’re likely to need to use the facilities. Whenever possible, use the restrooms at the airport rather than those onboard the place. According to Caring.com, flushing a toilet can send microorganisms shooting out into the air. They then settle on any object nearby. In the extremely close quarters of an airplane bathroom, that nearby object is you. And even if you don’t flush, microorganisms from the flushes of other passengers are likely resting on every visible surface in that tiny space.
Wash Your Hands
For some people, just reading the last section will offer incentive to wash their hands now, in the comfort of their own home. But washing your hands frequently, and well, while at the airport is really key to helping avoid sickness. Wash with both soap and water and make sure to spend time massaging the soap into your skin on the front and back of your hand, underneath your fingernails (where as much as 70 percent of germs hide) and in between your fingers before rinsing it off. You can also bring a small bottle of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.
Don’t Touch the Seat Pocket
You know that little pocket in front of you on the plane that holds magazines and emergency instructions? Don’t touch it. No, really—hands off. According to CNN.com, if you put your hand in that germhole, you might as well also spend your time on the flight building elaborate castles with the other passengers’ used tissues. Their article states that the influenza virus can live several hours on fabric and up to 48 hours on plastic—making that pocket a happy little germ stowaway area. Likewise, it’s a good idea to avoid touching other passengers’ luggage or hands as they, too, might have virus hitchhikers.
Travel with Global Medical Insurance
No matter how careful you are, how much water you drink, and how many things you avoid touching between home and your travel destination, you may still become ill with the flu or any one of thousands of other illnesses. Because your domestic health insurance coverage doesn’t provide benefits while you’re out of the country, it’s important hat you secure global medical insurance before you leave.
We may be making light of the influenza in this post, but the truth is that this virus can kill. In fact, the CDC expects it to cause as many as 36,000 deaths this flu season alone. It’s something that you and your family must take seriously whether you’re travelling abroad or remaining at home. Having access to emergency medical treatment while abroad can ensure that if you do catch the flu on your trip, you can get proper treatment immediately without worrying about how it could devastate your savings.