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Flu-Free Flying

12 Ways to Avoid Getting Sick When You Fly

By , Caring.com senior editor
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Swine Flu Inspection
Image by kyle simourd used under the creative commons attribution license.

Does every single airline trip you take seem to end with a case of the sniffles, or worse, with a full-on case of the flu? If you're starting to feel just a tad paranoid about picking up a nasty virus when you fly, you're not alone. It's a common perception that airline cabins are happy incubators for cold and flu germs.

Is it true, though? Researchers are still debating the issue. But a Canadian study published in the Journal of Environmental Health Research in 2004 reviewed passenger health histories after a five-hour flight between San Francisco and Denver and found passengers were 113 times more likely to have caught a cold during the flight than during normal daily life.

The publishers of the study point to a number of possible causes, including close quarters, shared air, and extremely low cabin humidity. Today, with the H1N1 virus making flu season an even scarier scenario, airline passengers are taking the cold and flu risk associated with flying more seriously.

Here, then, are 12 ways to dodge those flu and cold viruses when you fly:

Stay well hydrated.

Drink plenty of water before getting on the plane, and continue to drink while flying. The researchers who documented the high incidence of colds after flights concluded that low humidity in an airplane cabin was the prime cause for susceptibility to common colds and flu after air travel. Most commercial planes fly at elevations between 30,000 and 35,000 feet, where humidity is 10 percent or lower. When the air is this dry, it sabotages the natural defense system of mucus membranes in our noses and throats, making it easier for germs to penetrate to the nasopharynx --where nasal passages meet the mouth at the back of the throat -- which is the "sweet spot" for cold viruses.

Doctors' number-one tip when you're flying: Buy a big bottle of water as soon as you get through security and start drinking before you fly, so you're well hydrated when you get on the plane. Drinking water keeps the mucus membranes in the nose and throat moist and better equipped to fight germs. Continue to drink water throughout the flight. If you're on an international flight where they confiscate water bottles, request glasses of water from the attendant. Or bring your own refillable bottle -- just be sure it's empty when you try to board, and then ask the attendant to fill it for you once you're on the plane.