Alt-Health: Avoid the Flu When You Fly

fluflyA reader recently told me of his upcoming plans to fly to the other side of the planet for a visit. His sister moved to Japan for work and generously offered to buy his ticket, but he was worried about catching the flu. He asked me how to protect himself.

This is a timely question. The flu season is in full swing in the Far East and there is more than one strain going around. You do not want to take any chances! H5N1, the notorious avian crossover, is mixed with H3N2 and H1N1. Of course, that’s just the Type As. In Type B viruses, we have both the Yamagata lineage and the Victoria lineage available. You don’t want either one.

If you insist on braving the perils and throwing your fate in with a few hundred possibly infected strangers on a 14-hour flight, there are a number of things you can do to lessen your chances of contracting some form of blight. Tips number two and three will also help ease the effects of jet lag.

1. GET A FLU SHOT! Get inoculated before you go. If your insurance won’t pay for it, RI residents can get a free one at CVS. If you want the latest updates on specific travel health warnings, call the CDC at 1-800-CDC-Info. You might be able to discover the particular strain that is circulating where you will be landing. Of course, on a plane, passengers could have come from anywhere in the world and be host to a veritable zoo of parasites and viruses. Kind of a crap shoot, ain’t it?

2. STAY HYDRATED! I can’t stress enough how important this is. Cabin air is stripped of all moisture and when it’s that dry, the first defense line of mucus membranes in your nose and throat become dry and cracked, open to invasion from ravenous microbes. Get a big bottle of water at the airport and drink it all before you even get on the plane. Ask the attendant to refill it often. If you have to get up and go to the bathroom every 30 minutes, suck it up. It’s good exercise. And use a nasal mist to keep those membranes moistened during your flight.

3. EASE UP ON THE ALCOHOL! I know you’re jittery, but drinking just further dehydrates your system, making you more likely to catch the flu. Your doctor or natural healer can offer some alternative methods of calming nerves.

4. DO NOT TOUCH THE SEAT POCKET IN FRONT OF YOU! God only knows what has been in there. Mothers stash dirty diapers, people cram used napkins, tissues, chewed gum…need I go on? It wouldn’t hurt to get some surgical gloves and put them on if possible contact is imminent. Peel and toss them after use or you will just be carrying the microbes around with you. And use alcohol or disinfectant wipes to clean surfaces you will touch. Those suckers
can hang around for a while.

5. CLOSE THE TOILET SEAT LID BEFORE YOU FLUSH! People don’t think about this, but a fine spray is thrown up with every flush, and it is infused with microorganisms. Use a piece of tissue to avoid skin contact with the lid and wash your hands thoroughly before leaving the room. Note: Soap and water protect much better than hand sanitizer, although I must admit — it’s kind of tough to haul a sink around with you.

6. FACE MASKS! You are flying to the far East, so you’ll notice it is an accepted and widespread practice to wear face masks in public during times of illness or epidemics. Some women even match the fabric to their designer suits. In all honesty, it is far more effective if infected people wear masks to protect others from the flu, but if you wear one yourself, it can’t hurt. You may at least be guaranteed that strangers will give you a wide berth.

By the way, you have the right to ask to change your seat if a passenger near you is sneezing and coughing. It may not be possible, but don’t be afraid to speak up. The crew wants to be informed about infected travelers too. This is a hazard that they face on a daily basis. You might also want to ask your flight attendant how they stay healthy. The best advice usually comes from people who are out there in the trenches.