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Longer Flights Are Putting Travelers at Greater Risk For the Common Cold

New research confirms what many travelers have always known: a long flight combined with cramped quarters creates the perfect conditions to catch the common cold.

A cold in summer is never welcome and even less so just before jetting off on vacation. It’s difficult to avoid exposure to the virus during air travel, but research conducted by a leading medical expert has confirmed the unsurprising correlation between cramped cabin conditions, the length of a flight and the risk of coming down with the sniffles.

“We get colds when we are flying because there are three or four hundred people all squeezed in together in a small space,” Professor Ron Eccles, Director of the Common Cold Centre in Cardiff, Wales, explained to the Daily Mail.

According to Eccles, it can be guaranteed that at least a handful of passengers onboard any given flight will have colds, and these germs will spread easily in crowded conditions. The dehydration often experienced in the cabin as well as the overall stress of traveling, he adds, makes air passengers more prone to colds.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, experiments have shown that the longer passengers are in contact with someone with a cold, the more likely they are to contract the virus themselves. From a traveler’s perspective, this of course means that that they are more likely to contract a cold on a long-haul flight versus a short-haul hop.

“As soon as you get on a plane you are mixing with people from different parts of the world,” Eccles noted. “They may have a cold caused by a different version of the virus that we have immunity to.”

While travelers may inevitably contract colds due to the length of their exposure and proximity to someone who is already sick, Eccles at least de-bunked one travel myth — a plane’s air-conditioning system is not to blame for the spread of the virus from passenger to passenger.

Eccles also explained that while it might seem tempting to don a surgical mask in a pre-emptive strike against any germs, it’s wise to remember that the cold virus can still be contracted through the eyes, especially if they are dehydrated. However, Eccles added, those who are already sick can mitigate the spread of germs by wearing these masks.

[Photo: iStock]

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dhuey July 10, 2015

I'm surprised the professor didn't address how the very low humidity of an aircraft cabin helps to reduce transmission of viruses and bacteria.