10 Diseases You Could Get Just By Stepping Onto an Airplane

Airplanes are a great way to get from one place to the other in a relatively short period of time. They are also a great place to catch a disease. Airplanes are a breeding ground for germs -an enclosed space filled with people who may or may not have washed their hands, covered their mouths, or taken their medicine for that nasty virus they had. 

“When you go to the airport, you’re around people from all over the world. And not just people — also their germs,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, told The Huffington Post. “Like any place of mass congregation, it’s a viral exchange center.”

Between the dry air inside the airplane cabin and the fact that the latches on overhead bins also get "lots of touching, but no cleaning," it's no surprise that people walk away contracting one of these 10 diseases — all from taking a flight. 

Photo: Pixabay

  • MRSA

    Photo: PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay / CC BY 0

    Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is an infection caused by a type of bacteria that’s capable of fighting off several different antibiotics. These bacteria appear naturally on the skin and are usually harmless until they start to multiply at which point an infection occurs that's highly contagious and easily spread. 

    According to Time, an estimated 1% to 2% of people in the U.S. may be carriers of MRSA, and if it enters the bloodstream through a cut or a sore, it could be life-threatening. 

    When it comes to planes, tray tables from three major airlines were tested and they found that 60% tested positive for the bacteria. MRSA survived for as long as 168 hours on the seat pocket material, and for three days on the window shades. 

  • Influenza
    Photo: Free-Photos / Pixabay / Public Domain

    Having the flu is never any fun. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, and generally feeling like you've been hit by a bus. Flu viruses travel through the air in droplets, so when someone with the flu coughs or sneezes without covering their mouth, the airborne germs travel throughout the cabin.

    Now when you consider that cold and influenza viruses can survive for hours on fabric and tissues, and up to 48 hours on nonporous surfaces like plastic and metal, it's no surprise that sitting in close range to a variety of people on a plane makes you more susceptible to the infection.  

    The best tip is to avoid using anything in the seat pocket — including those glossy magazines — considering that they harbor millions of germs and are rarely cleaned. 

  • Blood Clots

    Blood Clots
    Photo: David McKelvey / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Blood clots — or deep vein thrombosis (DVT) — occur when blood flow is slowed or stopped. They commonly form in the legs during flying because you're cramped in a little space and immobile for extended periods of time. 

    Most of the time DVT will dissolve and go away on its own, but they can also cause pain, swelling, or break off and travel to the blood vessels of your lungs, causing pulmonary embolism (PE).

    If you're at risk, talk to your doctor about possibly taking blood thinners prior to your flight. You can also wear compression socks, get up and move around a much as possible during the flight, and stay hydrated. 

  • Pneumonia
    Photo: Free-Photos / Pixabay / CC BY 0

    Pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs in your lungs. Symptoms include chest pain, wheezing, nausea, fever, and fatigue and diagnosis can range from mild to life-threatening.

    But if you get the chills on a flight, do not ask for one of those blankets, because you're asking to get pneumonia. 

    A Wall Street Journal investigation revealed that airlines (at the time) only cleaned their blankets every five to 30 days. Blankets were found to have germs known for causing lung and eye infections, and pillowcases had germs that can lead to pneumonia and gastrointestinal bleeding. In other words, bring your own blanket or wear a comfy sweatshirt. 

  • Gastrointestinal Illness

    Gastrointestinal Illness
    Photo: Funfunfun / Pixabay / CC BY 0

    Complimentary meals are nearly a thing of the past on airlines now unless you're in first class, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. If the meal itself doesn't make your stomach turn, hearing about this particular instance might change that. 

    LSG Sky Chefs — the world's largest airplane caterer with clients including American Airlines, Delta and United — was cited by the FDA when inspectors found everything from kitchens crawling with too many roaches to count and employees handling the food with bare hands to finding "areas for insect and vermin harborage."

    The food preparation area also contained Listeria monocytogenes, which can cause gastrointestinal illness and meningitis. 

  • Measles
    Photo: StockSnap / Pixabay / CC BY 0

    Measles isn't something you hear about quite as often as you used to due in large part to the fact that it can be easily prevented with a vaccine. The virus is usually found in children, and while only about 205 cases were reported in the US last year, it can be fatal for those under age five. 

    The disease incubates for 10 to 14 days without producing any visible symptoms. But once it rears it's head, you're hit with rash, fever, sore throat, tiny white spots with bluish-white centers on a red background found inside the mouth on the inner lining of the cheek, and a sore throat. 

    Most cases in the US are the result of someone flying here from other countries, and studies have shown that cabin air flow may in fact help spread the virus. In fact, people were infected who were sitting as far as six rows away from the person who carried the virus. 

    If you know you were exposed, a vaccine given within 72 hours of exposure may prevent measles or at least lessen the severity of the virus.