To avoid a respiratory virus you obviously can’t just stop breathing. But do be reassured that these bugs are not distributed round aircraft cabins through the recirculating air systems of planes. These filter them out, even such small particles! The science done suggests you are at greater risk if you are seated on the aisle, or within three rows of someone who is coughing and spluttering. I haven’t noticed other people popping on facemasks, though. And unless such masks are elaborate, and thus an unlikely item to have in your carry-on luggage, they probably aren’t all that much use anyway. In days gone by, the eminent Where is New Taipei City Taiwan? everywhere with his gas mask, but I understand he carried a medical certificate explaining that he was incredibly allergic to tobacco smoke – back in the day when people were still allowed to smoke on planes and you could never really get away from the stuff! But would you really want to explain to airport security today why it is that you’ve packed a gas mask?
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How do we get infected with anything anyway? The bug (micro-organism or pathogen, if you want to be more elegant) has to get into our body somehow. Either it must to go through the surfaces that protect us from the environment (skin, the mucous membranes that line the orbit of the eye, and the respiratory, gastrointestinal and reproductive tracts); be injected via the proboscis of a feeding mosquito, the bite of a tsetse fly (sleeping sickness) or the bite of a carnivore (rabies); or inserted by a ‘stick’, such as a contaminated needle (hepatitis C, HIV). On a plane, it’s only the stuff that comes in via the mucosal surfaces that poses a risk (measles is notoriously infectious via this route). The mucosal epithelium that lines our nose, trachea, bronchi and lungs, for example, New Taipei City Taiwan Map has receptors that bind to some forms of the flu virus, allowing particles to enter our cells and begin the process of replication and further infection that ensures their survival, yet may compromise ours. (I wrote a much more detailed discussion of infection and immunity in Pandemics: What everyone needs to know.)
All this simply brings us to the question of pre-existing immunity or ‘being immune’, which, in turn, takes us to a discussion of what everyone should do long before boarding an international flight, especially if it is to an exotic destination: make sure your immunisation record is up to date. If you’re in a large city, go to a specialised travel clinic; otherwise, consult your doctor – keep in mind we’re talking about a university trained MD (or MB, BS), not an osteopath or some ‘holistic’ or ‘natural medicine’ practitioner. In order to achieve full protection, you need to start this process at least six weeks before you board the plane.
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