Many people worry about catching cold or flu germs on airplanes. Researchers tried to find out the risk of catching respiratory germs and where on the plane the risk is greatest. (March 19) AP
When you're trapped sky-high in an airplane, the sound of someone hacking or sneezing can make you wonder: how long until I end up sick, too?
That may depend on where you sit. Or, rather, where the sick person sits, according to a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The 11 people seated nearest those with a respiratory virus have a more than 80% chance of catching it themselves, the study found. That includes people within two seats to either side in the row and those in front and behind. Beyond that range, though, risk for such infections plummets below 3%.
Researchers documented passengers on 10 coast-to-coast flights before a team from Emory University used computer models to make their findings for the Boeing-sponsored study. And while the results apply only to such flights with single-aisle cabins, a leading authority on germs called the "impressive" study virtually conclusive.
"I think they pretty much confirmed, on a rather eloquent scale, that your risks are really pretty much limited for respiratory infection to the people right near you," said Charles Gerba, the University of Arizona microbiologist known as "Dr. Germ."