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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Planes, Trains, and …Germs?

Travel Health Risks You Can -- and Can't - Avoid

Is There a Health Risk From Pillows, Blankets, and Tray Tables? continued...

If you're going to worry about contamination on airplanes, shift your focus from the overhead compartment to the onboard water system. A recent EPA study found coliform bacteria - germs associated with feces - in water from galley water taps and lavatory faucets in 17% of airplanes tested.

Every expert tells WebMD the same thing: The best way to protect yourself against germs is to wash your hands. Hand washing removes viruses as well as bacteria. Of course, it gets complicated if the water you wash with is itself contaminated.

Gendreau has a solution. He carries a portable bottle of alcohol-based hand-sterilizing gel. The gel isn't as good at killing viruses as soap and water. So Gendreau washes his hands - then uses the gel.

"What I typically do is wash my hands a lot. If you're going to get something through a seat table, pillow, or what not, washing your hands is the way to minimize your risk," he says. "You wash in that washroom, but what is the coliform content on your hands now? So that is why I slap on the alcohol gel. Within 10 seconds it kills all the bacteria."

DeHart has more tips.

"Be healthy and rested before making a flight," he says. "If you already are coughing and under the weather, you will be worse after flying. So you need to have taken good care of yourself, and ensure you are taking the medications you should be taking. If you have any question of health -- your heart, particularly -- check with your doctor before flying. And as you're flying, you need to hydrate as much as you can. The flight crews are good at distributing water. You should drink that, and take a bottle or two yourself on board. Hydration is a must."

Off on a Cruise, the Germs Don't Snooze

If airplane ventilation has you worried, maybe you're thinking of taking an ocean liner instead. After all, there's a lot of fresh air out on the open seas, isn't there?

Of course there is. That may be one reason why 9.4 million people last year sailed out of U.S. ports.

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