A Passenger With Measles May Have Exposed Other Travelers At One Of The Country’s Busiest Airports

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One of the busiest and largest airports in the world experienced quite the health scare last week. Officials confirmed a passenger with an infectious case of measles traveled through Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Wednesday, Jan. 10.

The passenger arrived in Terminal 5 on an international flight and departed from Terminal 1 on a domestic flight. Anyone who was in O’Hare between 6:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. last Wednesday may have been exposed, and people who have not been vaccinated are at a higher risk.

Measles is a very contagious virus, and it can hang around in the air for up to an hour or two after a person has left,” University of Chicago Medicine’s Dr. Allison Bartlett told CBS News. “Certainly the people who were on the plane with this individual are at risk of getting the infection, but so are the other people who may have shared the same space with this person during this six-hour period that they were at O’Hare.”

Travelers who were at O’Hare during that time period should be on the lookout for symptoms such as rash, high fever, cough, runny nose and red watery eyes, which may develop over the course of the month.

This incident is a good reminder about the inevitable germs travelers face. According to data in the Journal of Environmental Health Research, travelers are 100 times more likely to catch a cold on a plane than anywhere else. And during peak travel times, the American Lung Association says as many as 1 in 5 people travel with the flu.

airplane sick photo
Getty Images | Dimas Ardian

With those odds, it may seem impossible to avoid catching more than a flight during your next trip. It’s true—there are many germs flying around, but there are just as many ways you can protect yourself to stay healthy while you travel. 

1. Immune Boost

If you focus on wellness before traveling, your body will be better able to fight off germs. That means eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep. Similarly, supplements like vitamin D and zinc can bolster your immune system.

2. Pack Healthy

Don’t leave home without a few germ-fighting necessities. Pack hand sanitizer with at least 50 percent alcohol, Clorox or Lysol disinfecting wipes, a light shawl or coat that doubles as a blanket, a travel pillow, bandaids and nasal spray. Also, be sure to pick up bottled water after security to stay hydrated during your flight.

bottled water photo
Flickr | Muffet

3. Keep Your Distance

Follow the 6-foot rule. Viruses can travel 6 feet when exhaled from an infected person. So, whenever possible stay at least this far away from anyone who looks sick, sneezes or coughs. Tell an airline employee if someone is visibly ill.

4. Slip On Socks

Protect your feet by wearing socks so you won’t have to come in direct contact with surfaces in the airport. Anything that your feet pick up can easily be transferred to your hands and your face.

socks photo
Flickr | Risager

5. Restroom Rules

Overall, avoid touching surfaces in airport and plane restrooms whenever possible. Do not put any bags on the floor or on the counter. If you must touch or place items on surfaces in the restroom, use disinfectant wipes and sanitizer afterward. Before leaving, wash hands with soap and water for at least 15 seconds.

6. Clean And Repeat

Immediately after boarding a plane, disinfect the tray table and latch, armrests, headphones, digital screens and window shutters with wipes. Then, throughout the flight use hand sanitizer whenever you touch luggage or use the restroom. If you snag a coveted aisle seat, wipe down the armrest frequently, as people who walk to and from the restroom will likely touch it and spread germs.

airplane bathroom photo
Flickr | MattHurst

7. Angle The Air

Turning on the air vent and angling it slightly in front of you can ensure you’re breathing the cleanest air. Air that comes through the plane’s ventilation system goes through filters that can remove more than 99 percent of dust and microbes in the air. Additionally, the moving air from the vent creates a barrier between you and small airborne viruses that hang in the air.

8. Wear A Mask

What it lacks in style, a face mask more than makes up for with flu-fighting function. If someone near you exhibits signs of a contagious condition, a face mask is an effective barrier.