Feature Archive

Planes, Trains, and ...Germs?

Travel Health Risks You Can -- and Can't - Avoid

By Daniel J. DeNoon
WebMD Feature

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

Wherever you go, however you get there, you always have traveling companions -- germs.

Will these fellow travelers make you sick? That depends partly on luck, experts say. But you can do a lot to protect yourself.

The modes of transportation most often blamed for spreading disease are airplanes, cruise ships, and subway trains. Are they just scapegoats? Or are these popular conveyances really making us ill? WebMD asked experts who've studied transportation health.

Up in the Air, Germs Are There

The Ides of March, 2003, was unlucky indeed for the 120 travelers who that day boarded Air China flight 112. The Boeing 737-300 completed its three-hour flight from Hong Kong to Beijing without apparent incident. But coughing in seat 14E -- a middle seat near the center of the plane -- was a person carrying the deadly SARS virus.

Within eight days, 20 passengers and two flight attendants would come down with SARS. Some of those who became infected were sitting as far as seven rows away from the man carrying the SARS virus. Five would die.