Do I Have an Increased Risk of Flu When I Fly?


Influenza is a respiratory viral illness that is highly contagious. Symptoms include cough, sore throat, muscle aches, runny nose and fever. Sometimes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can accompany the flu, especially in children.

According to International Travel and Health, part of the World Health Organization, there is very little risk of obtaining an infectious disease while flying. Airplanes have an exchange with outside air, and filtration of re-circulated air gives an aircraft a total exchange of air 20-30 times an hour. This is more than most buildings receive.

Re-circulated air passes through a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter providing the cabin with clean air. However, since influenza is transmitted through airborne particles, it is possible to transmit influenza to persons seated around an infected person. Also, if a plane is grounded and the ventilation system has been turned off, the risk of transmission throughout the airplane increases.

To help prevent the transmission of influenza, wash your hands frequently and cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. Do not travel in an airplane if you are sick. The best prevention of the flu is the flu vaccine. Anyone who wants to help prevent the flu can get a vaccine yearly. Unfortunately, the flu vaccine will be in very short supply this year for the United States. It is recommended therefore that healthy individuals hold off and allow those at risk for complications from the flu to get the vaccine first.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the following are at risk: elderly people; those in nursing homes or long-term care facilities; adults and children six months and older who have chronic lung or heart conditions, weakened immune systems, chronic kidney disease, or who require regular medical care. Children six months to 18 years of age who are on long-term aspirin therapy should get the vaccine, as well as all children six–23 months of age and all pregnant women.

Think smart and fly safe!

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention