Be on your germ guard
Before setting foot in an airport, train station, or bus station, Jason Tetro,
microbiology researcher and author of “The Germ Files” suggests thinking of these public places like an emergency room.
“You are in a crowded environment and you are surrounded by people with varying degrees of health.
Because you do not know who might be infected, you have to be ready for the unexpected,” Tetro told Healthline.
He says the majority of microbial species, such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi, come from people.
“For the most part, we are talking about colds and flus, but there are other possible pathogens that could lead to problems for the respiratory tract,
the gastrointestinal system, and the skin,” he said.
In fact, a recent study published in the journal PNAS reported that passengers on intercontinental flights
who sat within two seats or one row of a person with a respiratory illness have an 80 percent or greater chance of getting sick.
The good news is, the study found that for most of the passengers on the plane, the chance of infection was less than 3 percent.
Still, Tetro says the best way to stay clear of germs,
“Is to either avoid them physically — which isn’t really an option in a place like an airport or airplane — or prevent exposure through the use of disinfection for surfaces, antiseptics for the skin, avoidance of risky foods, and barrier protection for the respiratory tract.”
The best ways to guard yourself, he adds, include the following:
- Use disinfectant wipes for surfaces, such as tray tables and seat headrests.
- Use hand sanitizer that has 62 to 70 percent ethanol for 15 seconds of wetness on your hands.
- Don’t put any food in the seat pocket unless it’s in a wrapper.
- Use a scarf for preventing viruses from getting into your respiratory tract.
Natalie Sexton, holistic health coach and part-owner of her namesake Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Company, agrees.
She also suggests turning off air vents so that circulated air doesn’t blow directly your way.
Some people recommend travelers try lining the inside of their nostrils with petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline) to trap germs and keep them from being inhaled through the nose.
However, Tetro says that this most likely won’t prevent infection.
“No one has really tested this, and to be honest, I doubt it would be very effective.
The droplets that spread in a cough or sneeze can be quite small — we’re talking a thousand times smaller than a raindrop.
You could imagine how the size of those nostrils unless completely plugged would allow those viruses to sneak in,” he said.
Tetro adds that while use of petroleum jelly in this way occasionally may not be all that troubling,
he warns that if you happen to inhale small amounts, they could end up in the lungs and lead to a condition known as lipoid pneumonia.
2. Wash your hands and change clothes after your trip
If your hands pick up microbes of the flu, staph, or respiratory virus while traveling and you touch your face, you can become infected, explains Tetro.
Because on average, people touch their faces, noses, mouths, and eyes between five to 16 times per hour,
he says the best way to avoid contracting illness-borne germs is to wash your hands with soap and water.
(Tetro notes the soap does not have to be antibacterial.)
Before you set off on your trip, Sexton says start building your immune system now with proper food, exercise, and sleep.
“You can get anxious because you’re in the same environment with a lot of people and don’t know what illness people have or what you’re being exposed to,” she said.
“Keep in mind that it depends on the condition of your immune system way before travel.
Building a healthy immune system is an ongoing process throughout the winter and flu season.”