Airplane aisle seats can be harbors for the flu

Dec 4, 2014, 6:44 PM

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On an airplane, the aisle seats have always been considered the most desirable. Without a person to one side, they feel roomier, and provide a little more stretching space.

But flyers might want to reconsider this preference.

University of Arizona microbiologist Chuck Gerba, who is an expert in objects and surfaces that often transmit infection, said the aisle seats provide many more opportunities for contamination than the others.

He cited an example from October 2008, when members of a tour group experienced diarrhea and vomiting during a flight from Boston to Los Angeles, resulting in an emergency landing so passengers could be taken to the hospital and treated for Norovirus.

After the flight, the CDC investigated the incident and found those sitting on the aisles were 11 times more likely to contract Norovirus than those sitting in other seats. This increased probably was even greater than those sitting near the tour group members, which was 7.5 times greater.

Gerba said flyers are usually concerned with the recirculated air in planes, which is usually quite clean. Instead they should take note of the common surfaces carrying a multitude of bacteria.

“There is one toilet per 50 people on an airplane–unless you’re flying Southwest, then it’s one toilet per 75 people,” he told The Advisory Board Company, a health education and consulting firm.

Gerba said passengers should make sure their hands are clean before touching their face in order to avoid getting sick on a plane.

“Use a disinfectant wipe if you have one with you,” he said.

To make matters worse, flu season is expected to be especially nasty this year because of new strains that some argue are going to be more resistant to flu shots.

Moral of the story: when flying, make sure you touch as little as possible and sanitize your hands afterwards.

And maybe even sacrifice the extra stretching room on the aisle for one of the less hazardous seats.

Mac & Gaydos

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Airplane aisle seats can be harbors for the flu