Catching colds on airplanes

Viciousswackles passed this article on from BoingBoing. “Common cold transmission in commercial aircraft: Industry and passenger implications,” (Hocking and Foster, 2004) in the Journal of Environmental Health Research, reviews research on the number of passengers getting colds after flying. They reported that 20 percent of passengers who flew on a 2.5 hour flight (San Francisco to Denver) developed colds within a week, compared with a base rate of 3.5%. Depending on what you consider to be the period of infection related to flying, one is 5, 23, or 113 times more likely to get a cold when flying. The authors discount the conventional wisdom that infections result from recirculated air, but they contend that insufficient per-person flow of fresh air and extremely low relative humidity may be responsible.

Normally a layer of mucous in the nose and throat traps inhaled pathogens and cilia migrate them to the stomach to be destroyed by acid. But in very dry conditions the mucous lining dries out and this mechanism ceases, making one more suseptible to infection. The authors suggest that wearing a mask may help by increasing one’s local relative humidity. They also call for airlines to try increasing air flow and humidifying cabin air.

  1. #1 written by allison February 3rd, 2006 at 20:33

    when I’m wildly famous and in high demand I’m going to be one of those celebrity types that refuse to fly and insist on crushed ice in diet lime soda. Because planes have germs, duh.

    RE Q
  2. #2 written by allison February 3rd, 2006 at 20:35

    p.s. it makes me sooo happy that you’re blogging again. Yea!

    RE Q

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