Fly at your own risk: Health hazards at 30,000 feet

PHOENIX - Germs, disease, UV rays and cosmic radiation, all things you can be exposed to while flying.

Let’s face it, airplanes are dirty. There are 2.8 billion passengers on commercial airlines every year, which makes airplanes a breeding ground for germs.

The first health hazard is bacteria: Nasty bugs like MRSA and E. coli can hitch extended rides on armrests, window shades, tray tables, toilet handles and more.

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Health hazard No. 2 is viruses.

“Some viruses can last a couple of weeks, so if a surface isn’t scrubbed down properly or cleaned, then there’s a chance you could pick that up if your immune system is vulnerable,” said Dr. Suneil Jain, Rejuvena Health & Aesthetics. 

Protect yourself by practicing good hygiene.

“It’s very important to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before you eat, feed your kids, put your hands in your mouth or touch your face,” said Jessica Rigler of the Arizona Department of Health Services.

When it comes to the air you breathe, the CDC claims that filters in most airplanes capture 99.9 percent of particles, but it’s the person next to you who could easily give you a virus.

The third health hazard is one you probably don't think about, UVA rays.

“The higher up you go, the more UV’s you are going to get,” said professor Ron Carr from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. 

The glass blocks standard UVB rays but more harmful UVA rays can still pass through, so just like the beach, wear sunscreen on the plane and use the sun shade.

Another concern, cosmic radiation.

Radiation from traveling by air is from space. Cosmic radiation is produced by the stars and the sun. 

A flight from the East Coast to the West Coast will expose you to roughly .035 milliSieverts of radiation, which is much less than a chest X-ray.

Other health concerns are deep vein thrombosis and dehydration.

“On long flights, it’s nice to get up and move around and make sure you are staying hydrated,” said Dr. Jain.

Overall, the key to staying healthy while flying is preparing yourself. 

“Make sure you are eating healthy, getting plenty of sleep, lower your stress levels, exercising, some of the basic things of staying healthy,” Dr. Jain.

Most airplanes are disinfected every single day before the first departure, so catching that early morning flight might be best for your health.

© 2017 KPNX-TV


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