By Dr. Dave Hnida

(CBS4) – Let’s face it: the words healthy, holidays, and airplanes don’t seem to belong in the same sentence. With flu season ramping up, and cough and colds infiltrating society, there are a number of better places to “Ho-Ho-Ho” than in a cramped up tube at 36,000 feet for a few hours.

So, how can you get on a plane healthy, and not arrive at your destination coated with germs?

(credit: CBS)

Tough to do considering a few facts about how germs travel during holidays, as well as other times of the year:

A typical cough travels at about 75 mph, and contains about 3,000 droplets of stuff you don’t want to inhale.

A sneeze is even speedier, exiting the nose at 160 mph and containing 50,000 droplets.

And where these particles land, or are deposited by hand, is even more depressing to think about. Flu germs, for example, can survive on a surface for 18-24 hours. That’s a generous window of opportunity for contact with infectious bugs.

Overall, there are basically three factors to consider when it comes to healthier air travel.

The first is air quality. And with that comes some good news — it’s not as bad as what you think.

Air in an aircraft cabin is recirculated about 20 times per hour, which is good, especially when you compare it to a typical office building. In that setting, the air is recirculated about 12 times per hour. And let’s not even think about recirculation in a house or apartment.

Next up are the seating arrangements. Studies show the best seat to be in for germ avoidance is the window seat. Grab one, if possible. The worst is not always the miserable middle, but the aisle seat. That’s because you constantly have people walking past you (and grabbing your seatback), as well as the chance for more germ exposure from an ill person in the row directly across from you. Now what happens if you hear a person who resembles Typhoid Mary hacking away on your flight? In the case, the research shows the safe zone is just beyond about 3 feet (actually 3.28 feet). In other words, someone coughing or sneezing in your row, or one row ahead or one row behind isn’t so good. Someone several rows away may not necessarily be a clear and present danger to you.

Up third are the “Touchables”. The items that tend to be most germ coated include: seatbelt, armrests, tray table, air vent, overhead bins, and restroom handles. Anything you can touch has the potential to make you ill.

Now you know what you are up against. What are your most potent weapons?

1. Hand sanitizer, early and often.

2. Plenty of water. You tend to dry out on a plane, and a dried out nose and throat are more susceptible to infection. Artificial tears are another good tool.

3. Avoid that aisle seat.

4.Turn on your air vent to improve the immediate air circulation around you.

5.Make sure you’ve had that flu shot!

6. Bring a mask if you still feel uneasy under any circumstances.

7. Be nice to the flight attendants. Think of all of the stress (and germs) that gets dumped on them.

Finally, don’t be THAT person. Meaning you’re the one who is sick and decide to fly anyway, and distribute your germs like gifts. Thank you.

Have a good holiday, and make it a healthy one.

Dr. Dave Hnida

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