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Reduce your risk of getting a cold or flu on your next flight with these six simple tips.

Excited for the trip, but a bit paranoid about picking up a bug on your flight? You’re not alone. Many of us have caught a nasty cold or even a full-blown case of the flu after flying, particularly after a long-haul flight.

And there’s some research to back up the health risks of flying. A Canadian study published in the Journal of Environmental Health Research (2004) looked at passenger health reports after they made a five-hour flight between San Francisco and Denver. The findings? Passengers were 113 times more likely to have caught a cold during the flight than during normal daily life.

Not surprisingly, researchers say the likely culprits are close quarters, shared air and low cabin humidity. As with all crowded areas, the airport and the cabin of an aircraft can be a breeding ground for germs. Depending on the type of surface, viruses can survive for hours — and the surfaces at airports may be particularly risky because they can host viruses from all over the world, including many that locals do not have antibodies for.

So what can be done? Here are 6 tips to beat travel bugs and stay healthy on your next trip:

Wash your hands often. It’s advice we’ve heard time and again, but this most basic practice goes a long way in fighting off infection. (Are you washing your hands thoroughly enough to ward off the bad bugs? See The art of handwashing for the most effective techniques.)

Be wary of germ hotspots. These include airport check-in kiosks, airplane tray tables, seat back pockets and, of course, bathrooms. (For the latter, protect yourself further by using a paper towel to close the toilet seat before flushing, particularly in tiny airplane washrooms.) Carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to make it more convenient to wash your hands frequently, as well as wipes for disinfecting surfaces — particularly tray tables, arm rests, and seat belts — in the cabin.

Keep your space from the sneezers. It may seem rude, but ask to be moved if you’re seated next to a coughing or sneezing passenger. If it’s not possible to switch your seat, try to keep your head averted from your sick seatmate. Some experts also suggest pointing the air vent above your seat just slightly in front of your face so that germs from coughing or sneezing are deflected away from you.

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Cynthia Ross Cravit