Cruising and the Risk of Contagion Part II
How To Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling
It’s not just cruise ships that provide an environment that allows for the spread of disease. Any public space that brings large numbers of people together in close quarters offers an increased chance of getting sick. Anyone who has had young children go off to school knows about those years of viral and bacterial infections brought home and spread through the entire family. It’s just one of life’s cycles and, while there is little you can do about those episodes, you can take action to reduce your risks while traveling.
The first area of increased risk encountered by the traveler is usually the airplane. Packing a few hundred strangers into a compact environment for one and a half to seventeen hours is an invitation to spread disease. One study discovered that, on average, 20% of your fellow passengers are probably sick. Here are steps you can take to reduce your risk while flying:
1. Select the right seats – The most likely people that will infect you are those sitting next to you, in the row ahead of you and behind you. For that reason, the safest seat is the window and the least desirable seat is on the aisle.
- Disinfect your space – Armrests, tray tables and those seat-back screens and controls have been found to be a serious source of infectious agents and the airlines do almost nothing to them during the cleaning of a plane. Get in the habit of carrying TSA sized bottles of disinfectant spray and/or wipes. Purell, Clorox and GermX are a few effective brands. Disinfecting wipes will usually kill 99.9% of viruses and bacteria, including staph, E. coli, MRSA, norovirus, salmonella, strep and even the new threat of coronavirus.
- Watch out for surfaces at lavatories – Another study found airplane lavatory surfaces, especially door handles, are a major hotspot for pathogens. Sadly, too many people don’t wash their hands. For that reason, avoid touching surfaces with a bare hand – use a paper towel to open doors and wash your hands thoroughly.
- Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth – The primary entry points for disease agents are your body’s mucus membranes (those moist areas) and the best way to avoid infection is to avoid transferring them from your hands. So, wash or disinfect your hands often.
- Face-masks? – Evidence suggests that airborne infections, while possible, are actually rare. Disinfecting your space, washing your hands and avoiding likely infected surfaces are hundreds of times more effective than face masks. In most situations, face-masks won’t hurt but are probably unnecessary.
Next, there are steps you can take to avoid getting sick on a cruise ship. The risk on a ship is very similar to that on an airplane. While you do have a lot more space to try and stay away from people that are ill, you will be in that environment for much longer periods. The basic steps to avoid picking up an infection are the same:
- Disinfect your hands often – most cruise ships are now reasonably aggressive with hand sanitizers, usually providing Purell dispensers all over the ship.
- Avoid touching surfaces in lavatories and, again, wash your hands often.
- Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth. This is a hygiene practice that would be good to adopt everywhere in life.
- Avoid contact with obviously ill people – We can’t count the number of times we have gotten sick on a cruise because people that are sick make no real effort to isolate themselves from the other passengers. We believe this is an area where cruise ships should become even more aggressive. On several occasions we’ve had seriously ill people that kept coming back to the dinner table each night. Our new policy leans toward “would we rather be thought rude or would we prefer getting sick?” If they won’t leave the table – you should.
- Avoid elevators if at all possible. The small enclosed spaces are a breeding ground for germs even though the ship’s personnel work hard at keeping the spaces clean.
- Carry your own emergency medications – More on this part III.