When experts in North America want clues on how to predict what the flu season will be like, they look south to Australia, which experiences its flu season (and winter) from June to August. This year, the season started early, with a lot of cases in the beginning of the season, which worried some experts in North America. However, the numbers tapered off and so predictions are that North America will experience a typical flu season: one that will begin to pick up in October and peak around the end of December.
The number one thing doctors recommend to protect against the flu is to take the influenza vaccine as soon as it becomes available – and this is especially true for those who plan to fly during the flu season. It’s no fun being sick, but being sick and away from home is a special kind of misery. Studies have shown that our chances of getting sick (with any contagious illness, not just the flu) after flying increase because of shared air, close quarters and most importantly low cabin humidity. According to the World Health Organization, the humidity in aircraft cabins is usually less than 20%, while humidity in the home is normally over 30%. Low humidity can cause skin, eye and nasal dryness as well as make us more susceptible to illness. Add to this the fact that airplanes are a petri dish of bacteria and you can see why you might want to consider taking these steps the next time you are onboard:
- Pack disinfecting wipes and use them. The first thing you should do when you board is take out your wipes and thoroughly wipe down all hard surfaces (make sure you read the package instructions on how to do this correctly). So this means your tray table, armrests, seatbelt buckles and window shades. If anyone gives you the side eye, ignore them or let them know that studies have shown that bacteria like the E.coli and staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) can survive for days on different airplane surfaces.
- Bring your own blanket and pillow – and even seat cover. If this sounds a bit “extra”, think about this: The average person sheds about five million skin cells in 24 hours – almost one million cells in a five hour flight. With 160 people sitting in the same airplane seat each month, that’s a lot of dead skin cells. If you think that seats get cleaned regularly, you think wrong: they go about a month between deep cleanings. Maybe this is why a quarter of airplane seats have tested positive for harmful bacteria.
- Wear shoes to the lavatory – that isn’t water on the floor! You know this already, right (but still see people do it)? In any case, you might still want to hand sanitizer on your way out since surprise, surprise, that lavatory handle is also pretty germy.
- Consider taking the first flight of the day: Travel + Leisure asked different airlines about their cleaning protocols and the more thorough scrubs happen when a plane overnights at an airport.
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