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How to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling

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If you’re planning on traveling this holiday season, you may be sharing your plane, train, or bus with a few million unexpected companions: dust mites, the most common cause of household dust allergies, according to research in PLOS One. They hitch onto your clothes, skin, and luggage, and they can survive even international travel. And while dust mites typically won’t make you do much more than sneeze, these four traveling bugs may carry more risks.

MRSA & E. coli
Also known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, MRSA is an antibiotic-resistant strain of strep that can survive up to 168 hours on airplanes’ seat-back pockets. (Read about one woman’s battle with the superbug.) And E. coli, the bug that causes food poisoning, can live for up to 96 hours on the armrest, according to researchers from Auburn University. The armrest, tray table and window shade are made from soft, porous materials that allow bacteria to thrive. So disinfect before settling in.

Listeria
Earlier this year, a food manufacturer that supplies retailers and airlines recalled more than 60,000 pounds of breakfast meals that were contaminated with listeria, a bacteria that causes a serious GI infection (and is especially dangerous to pregnant women). It’s not the first listeria-triggered recall that’s affected airlines—nor will it be the last. If you’re concerned, bring your own snacks on board.

Bed bugs
Airlines like British Airways have been known to fumigate entire planes due to bed bug infestations—the hungry critters can latch onto luggage and clothing. Be on the lookout for the bugs and their bites during your flight, and consider storing clothes in resealable plastic bags or using hard-sided luggage to keep the critters out. (There may be a link between bed bugs and MRSA, another sickness-causing stowaway, too.)

Coliform bacteria
The tap water from 12 percent of U.S. airlines tested positive for this type of bacteria, which includes fecal bacteria and E. coli, according to research from the Environmental Protection Agency. If you’re parched, ask an attendant for a water bottle and forget about sipping from the tap. (Is it Safe to Drink Tap Water anywhere? We've got the answer.)

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