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Why do I get sick after flying?

Nurse practitioner with virtuwell.com answers and gives tips to avoid catching a cold on a plane


By Gwen Verchota, PhD, APRN-BC
November 21, 2017

     


Vacations are for spending time with family, having fun or relaxing somewhere warm. But sometimes getting to your destination can be a different story. And spending time in an urgent care after you picked up a bug while traveling is definitely not a vacation.

As a nurse practitioner for virtuwell.com, I diagnose and treat patients just like an urgent care. But we do it all online. I treat a lot of patients with colds, the flu or a cough after they’ve been traveling or on an airplane.

Tips to avoid catching airplane germs

There’s actually no research to show you’re more likely to get sick on a plane. But any time you are in close contact with a lot of people, germs are bound to spread. Thankfully, there are a few steps you can take to stay healthy and enjoy your vacation.

  1. Change how you get onto the airplane

    Cramped airplane cabins have been thought to be breeding grounds for illness. But a recent study found the actual plane may not be the biggest problem. The best way to avoid getting sick on a flight might actually a simple change in the way you take your seat.

    When boarding by zone, people tend to be closest to one another. This makes them more likely to spread sickness. The researchers suggested you’re actually better off boarding the plane last. Or, at least standing back from the long line of people waiting to board.

  2. Wash your hands, often

    We’re constantly reminding our kids to wash their hands. But we could probably benefit from some extra handwashing ourselves—especially while traveling. It is true that airplanes are hotbeds for germs. While it’s impossible to avoid germs, keeping your hands clean can help. Be sure to carry and use hand sanitizer, too.

  3. Sanitize the area where you’re sitting yourself

    While planes are sanitized by the crew before you board, it’s a quick turnover time. A little extra cleaning can’t hurt. Consider carrying sanitizing wipes so you can clean your sitting area. Wipe down the tray table, arm rests – anything another passenger likely used.

I did my best, but I still managed to get sick after flying. Now what?

If you do happen to get sick, take a minute to consider all of your options. A lot of people are used to heading to the ER or urgent care if it’s late or they’re in a different city. But less traditional options like online care can sometimes be a good place to start.

About Gwen Verchota, PhD, APRN-BC

Gwen Verchota is the Care Delivery Manager at HealthPartners’ online clinic, virtuwell.com. She's a leader in creating safe, effective online treatment plans. And she loves leading a team of nurse practitioners that’s passionate about providing convenient, personalized care. Outside of work, you’ll find Gwen golfing, downhill skiing and cheering on the Minnesota Wild with her husband and two kids. She can’t wait to get her kayak out on the lake at the cabin they’re building in Walker, Minn.

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