Provocative new research suggests international rules that ban potentially infectious tuberculosis patients from flying are too stringent, and airline passengers are really at little risk from catching TB from a fellow traveler.
The paper is controversial. U.S. health officials disagree, and a prominent TB expert says the findings are based on paltry data and current guidelines are appropriate.
The research analyzes 13 earlier studies of 4,300 airline passengers from six countries. Only two studies offered convincing evidence of an infected passenger spreading the disease to others.
There were only 10 infections diagnosed in thousands of passengers who flew with infected travelers.
The paper mentions what may be the most famous incident of a TB-infected airline passenger: Andrew Speaker, a Georgia lawyer with a drug-resistant form of TB who ignored government advice and flew to and from Europe in 2007. Hundreds of passengers who traveled with him were tested, and none was found to have tuberculosis.
Tuberculosis (TB) made headlines back in 2007, when Georgia lawyer Andrew Speaker went against government advice and flew to Europe and back while infected with a drug-resistant form of TB.
International World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines currently recommend that a person with TB should not fly until they are no longer infectious. The guidelines also recommend tracing airline passengers who were seated in nearby rows to an infected person for longer than eight hours.
These measures are intended to curb the spread of tuberculosis, but they are based on limited research and their true benefit is unknown.
That’s why Dr. Ibrahim Abubakar conducted the above study, to determine whether the risk of contracting TB during airline travel is a real concern. After analyzing 13 studies of 4,300 airline passengers, he found that only two studies showed evidence of an infected passenger spreading TB to others.
In all, of the thousands of passengers who flew with TB-infected individuals, only 10 subsequent infections were diagnosed.
His conclusions, which have been admonished by U.S. health officials, were that it might be unnecessary to ban TB patients from air travel, as well as test other passengers and crew for possible infection, because the risks of catching TB from a fellow passenger are actually very low.
Does Flying Increase Your Chances of Getting Sick?
Air travel, with its frequent delays, security hassles, cramped quarters, and jet lag concerns, can be stressful, but does it inherently make you more likely to contract a contagious disease like TB?
In the last two decades, for instance, airplane manufacturers have elevated air re-circulation levels to as high as 50 percent of all cabin air in an effort to reduce the engines' workload, thus increasing the planes' fuel-efficiency.
On a typical large commercial jet aircraft, there are about 20 air exchanges per hour while cruising, with the obvious concern being that this “used” air may be contaminating the cabin with infectious agents.
That said, the latest WHO report found there is no evidence that recirculation of cabin air facilitates the transmission of infectious disease agents on board.
Further, a University of California, San Francisco study found recycled air on short-term flights is no more likely to cause colds than flights using fresh air. The researchers interviewed 1,100 passengers before and one week after an approximate two-hour flight and reported that the levels of those with colds and colds with runny noses were virtually the same between recycled air and fresh air flyers.
As this report confirms, it is the competency of your body's own immune system that determines whether or not you will get sick. The infectious bacteria and viruses that may circulate around an airplane cabin are merely triggers for an already weakened immune system.
Your Immune System Determines Whether or Not You’ll Get Sick
Anytime you’re in a confined public space, you run the risk of being exposed to germs. In fact, you’re exposed to germs just about 24/7, every day of your life.
But the solution to staying healthy is not to turn into a modern-day Howard Hughes where you avoid all public interactions at any cost. Not only is this not feasible, but it’s not addressing the foundational cause of the problem.
The problem with the WHO air travel guidelines for TB is that they fully believe that the bacteria (and in other cases viruses) are responsible for all the damage.
It is my belief, and that of nearly all natural health care practitioners, that these infectious agents only serve as triggers to cause the illness, but what is required or responsible for the actual infection is a dysfunctional immune system.
When I lecture, I frequently use the analogy of disease to darkness and health to light. If you shine a light in a dark room it is not dark anymore. Darkness and light simply can’t coexist. Similarly if you are healthy you can have massive exposure to infectious agents and you simply will NOT get sick.
Just like light and darkness it is very difficult, if not impossible in most cases, for a strong immune system and infectious disease to exist together.
It is the state of your immune system -- not the bacteria or virus itself -- that determines whether or not you will get sick, even if you come in contact with the germ.
Are You Taking This Simple Precaution to Virtually Eliminate Your TB Risk?
Although nearly one-third of the world’s population carries the tuberculosis bacteria, only about 0.2 percent of those infected with tuberculosis (TB) actually develop a clinically significant infection. This fact alone indicates that something other than the bacteria is responsible for developing the disease.
Several studies have appeared in the last decade indicating that vitamin D is one of the major keys that dictate whether you will actually develop the disease upon exposure. These studies have all come to the conclusion that vitamin D deficiency sets off the disease if you are a carrier of the bacteria.
One previous study was able to show an astonishing nearly 100 percent resolution rate by treating TB patients with 10,000 units of vitamin D daily (compared with the paltry 400 units usually advocated by conventional medicine).
This is not too surprising as prior to the advent of antibiotics for the treatment of TB, solariums, in which sun exposure was the primary therapy, was highly effective for TB.
Researchers have discovered that your white blood cells convert the vitamin D that your skin produces from proper sun exposure into an active form, which helps form a protein that kills the tuberculosis bacteria.
Therefore the more severe your vitamin D deficiency is, the higher your risk of developing the active form of TB.
Vitamin D is also necessary for your immune system to function properly, and has been well documented to increase the production of over 200 antimicrobial peptides that fight infection.
I’ve written quite extensively on the many health benefits of vitamin D. In fact, one recent meta-analysis of 18 randomized controlled trials concluded that supplemental vitamin D significantly reduces mortality from ALL diseases!
For a refresher on this essential nutrient, I recommend viewing my free one-hour video lecture on vitamin D.
10 Tips for Enhancing Your Immune Response Before Air Travel
If you know you’re going to be on a long flight soon, it makes sense to take extra precautions to ensure your immune system is functioning at its peak. I actually recommend you follow these tips year-round, regardless of your travel plans, as you will inevitably be exposed to bacteria and viruses in your daily life as well.
Following these guidelines -- which form my 10 basic tenets of health -- will help you optimize your health and immune function, and by doing so, minimize your risk of developing disease.
Address your emotional traumas and manage your stress
Get optimal exposure to sunlight or a safe tanning bed, or take oral vitamin D this is not possible
Drink plenty of clean water
Limit your exposure to toxins
Consume healthy fat
Eat a healthy diet that’s right for your nutritional type (paying very careful attention to keeping your insulin levels down)
Eat plenty of raw food
Optimize your insulin and leptin levels
Get plenty of good sleep