It’s pretty standard operating procedure: You travel somewhere, you come back, you get sick, you blame the germs on the plane.
Well, perhaps you’ve been unfair in your assessment of planes all along. A new video from science-minded YouTube channel SciShow takes a closer look at the popular notion that you are prone to get sick on a plane because recycled air spreads sick people's germs around and around to innocent healthy bodies, infecting them, and being generally gross in the process. But that’s not really how it goes down after all.
It turns out that planes do recirculate only about half the air that flows through the cabin. The other half is actually air from compressors in the engines, which enters the plane from outside and is totally fresh. And the air that is recycled is filtered first — most planes use the same HEPA filters used in hospitals’ operating rooms and ICUs to keep the air free of bacteria when it really matters. Think of these filters as something like a colander for dust and bacteria.
Of course, you could get sick on a plane if the person next to you is coughing or sneezing all up in your grill. But that’s just the same way you’d get sick sitting next to anyone — at work, in a car, at a picnic — who is depositing their germs all over you from direct contact.
So if you get sick after a vacation, go easier on blaming the airplane. It was probably those subway turnstiles…. or perhaps the fact that you surpassed your immune system when you stayed up all night partying and drinking.
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