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How Not to Get Sick from a Flight

Couple in an AirplaneA researcher who took swabs of various surfaces on planes in 2007 found the surfaces contaminated with the superbug methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), norovirus, and E. coli. Norovirus and E. coli can cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms and illness, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

While no data exists suggesting that people are more likely to get sick on a plane than elsewhere, it still is a confined space that can facilitate transfer of germs like this, as well as diseases such as influenza. So what can you do to protect yourself while you fly?

While numerous devices and germ-fighting concoctions can be purchased to disinfect surfaces you might touch on a plane, perhaps the best defense is simply washing your hands, experts say.

USA today also offers a few tips to help travelers avoid bacteria and viruses that could make you sick:

  • Be wary of the airplane lavatory. Numerous studies have shown that these are teeming with E. coli on almost every surface.
  • Sanitize your seat. Pack disinfectant wipes and wipe down any surface you're using.
  • Protect yourself from sick passengers. Don't rub your eyes or touch your nose or mouth -- that's how many diseases spread.
  • Don't go barefoot at security checkpoints. Wear or bring socks to avoid athlete's foot and other fungal infections.

For more of their suggestions, click on the USA Today link below.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Modern conveniences are awesome and it is just amazing that we can fly across the country in hours rather than having to drive for days or months. However there is a price to pay for this convenience and it could be your health.

Since I travel regularly I thought you might appreciate how I have been safeguarding myself while flying and being exposed to radiation at 35,000 feet that humans were never designed to be exposed to. Remember the highest mountain in the world is 28,000 feet yet most of us think nothing of spending hours at higher altitudes.

There is some serious radiation exposure at 35,000 feet and that is your greatest danger. Here are some principles I use to help protect me when I fly.

#1 Fly at Night

This one doesn't cost you anything except some potential convenience and sleep. It might even save you money as night flights are typically less expensive.

Since a large percentage of the radiation is from the sun it is best to fly at night when the earth is blocking most of it. Just like you won't get sunburned at night you will have less risk of radiation at night.

#2 Use Astaxanthin

This is clearly the most amazing antioxidant that I know of. We have seen radical improvements in people's ability to tolerate sun exposure by using it. If you do get burnt the burn is much less severe and virtually no peeling occurs. It also is a powerful fat soluble antioxidant that will protect your cells.

The downside is that you really need to be on it for several weeks for it to work; you will get very little benefit if you only take it before you board the plane. Typical dose is 4 mg a day for three weeks prior to boarding the plane.

#3 Use an Earthing/Grounding Pad

It is now thought that EMFs and other ambient electrical interference can disrupt your body's bio-electrical communications, leading to weak electrical currents within your body. WiFi on many flights only worsens the problem.

Traveling on airplanes is a suspected cause of weakening bio-electric currents, as it disrupts the natural ground your body would receive when you're connected naturally to the earth through your feet.

One way to counter this bio-electrical disruption caused by airline travel is to use an earthing pad, also known as a grounding pad. I have been using one for the past six months. They are still in beta testing, but we hope to have them out later this year. They are also good for your car.

#4 Stay Hydrated with Water NOT Soda

Most airlines will offer you bottled or canned sparkling water. This is fine if you don't purchase water after you get though security. The LAST thing you want to do is drink one of the sodas they offer you as that will add insult to injury and serve to synergistically worsen the damage from the radiation.

#5 Walk Around on Long Flights

Being immobile on a plane and having a limited space in which to move increases the risk that blood clots will develop and then lodge in the lungs, an event called a pulmonary embolism. Over the last 30 years, about 100 cases of pulmonary embolism after air travel have been reported.

To reduce risk of pulmonary embolism, you should avoid alcohol, wear loose clothing, avoid crossing your legs, and engage in minor physical activity while flying, such as walking or moving your legs frequently during the flight.

#6 Avoid Junk Food

If you're unlucky enough to arrive hungry to the airport, most of your options are junk food or processed food. My advice to you is avoid these choices. This goes for any in-flight meal options that are often nothing more than processed food.

Junk food is loaded with salt, sugar and feedlot animals (animals that present a number of health problems of their own when you consume them), and these three things will do more to impair your germ fighting abilities than they will to ward off any disease.

The truth is that fasting is much better than eating junk food when you travel. Fasting does less to impair your body's natural disease fighting mechanisms.

Other Dangers of Public Places, Including Airplanes

In case you missed my recent article about how to avoid getting sick from your hotel room, you can view it here. Today we're talking about airplanes and other public places where a lot of people congregate and touch things. Let's face it, people are dirty. They touch things they shouldn't be touching, they don't always practice proper hygiene and worst of all they bring these germs with them wherever they go and spread them by touching things.

As the article above rightly points out, you can't let the prevalence and ubiquity of germs make you go crazy to avoid them, but you can take steps to reduce your exposure to the one to two percent of germs in public places that can actually make you sick. The superbug methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), norovirus, and E. coli are certainly three strains you don't want to become infected with as they cause some nasty negative health consequences if they overpower your immune system.

The NY Times article above details some devices you can purchase in your fight against invading germs, like personal air purifiers worn around your neck, or seat covers for airplane seats, but the article also points out that your best defense when traveling on an airplane is to frequently wash your hands.

It is also important to not touch your mouth, nose or eyes after touching common public surfaces in airplanes like door handles, seat-back trays and water faucets or toilet handles (before your hands have been washed) because this is how the germs get from your hands into your body.

Cold and flu viruses can last up to 72 hours on plastic surfaces and the nasty norovirus can survive for two to four weeks – so chances are that you're very likely to touch a surface with some germs on it while you're in a confined space with many other people, like on an airplane (or in public places general).

While some airlines like American Airlines and Southwest tout their thorough deep cleaning requirements for their fleet of planes, including scrubbing and de-sanitizing nooks and crannies every thirty days, you can still bet that many surfaces like arm rests, seat-back tables, magazines and lavatory toilets receive at best minimal cleanings after most flights.

So do yourself a favor and wash your hands when you touch anything on an airplane that other people have also touched in the last 72 hours. And there's actually no need to ever use antibacterial hand soap, as there's plenty of evidence showing that nothing works better to cut germs than simply washing your hands with plain soap and water!

For the Best Protection of All, Keep Your Immune System Healthy

Hand washing is an excellent preventive tool against the germs lurking anywhere on an airplane or on public surfaces in general, but a strong immune system will always be your best defense against any pathogenic bacteria you come across anywhere, and will serve you well if you nourish it with the proper tools.

You can support your immune system by:

  • Getting a good night's sleep.
  • Minimizing stress in your life.
  • Exercising regularly and effectively.
  • Getting enough sun exposure in order to optimize your vitamin D levels.
  • Avoiding sugar and grains, and instead eating plenty of raw foods including raw vegetables, raw milk and raw eggs.
  • Taking a high-quality probiotic (good bacteria) and eating plenty of fermented foods like kefir and natto, which are natural sources of probiotics.

When you follow these steps you can have peace of mind that any germs that do enter your body will be no match for your well nourished and highly capable immune system, which will always be your best line of defense against disease of any kind.