Travel and Sickness

Traveling is usually a fun activity that most people enjoy. You visit new places, see new sights and meet interesting new people. The food and alcohol are typically good as well. But as with everything in life, there can be downsides. Jet lag is definitely one of them. Getting sick is another.

When people get sick, it is often by chance, but when you travel those chances often work against you. When you travel, you sometimes become chronically sleep deprived and stressed. This affects a person’s immune system and raises the possibility for infections. Traveling exposes the body to all kinds of different effects that make it more susceptible to illness.


In order to contract an infection, one of two things need to happen. The body either needs to be exposed to more bacterium and parasites, or it needs to be more susceptible to them.

The first issue while traveling is the proximity to other passengers. Often those passengers carry bacterium or other harmful microbes. This is why people have a higher chance of contracting head colds or even influenza while at an airport or in a plane.  This is similar to people that work at daycares or to people that go through large crowds daily.

This was even cited in a study from 2002 done by the Journal of the American Medical Association which states that, on average, 20 percent of all plane passengers develop a respiratory infection within five days.

Also, there are certain behaviors which are more common while traveling that also add to the chances of developing infections. One of those is the loss of sleep which is very common during long trips. Even traveling overnight and passing through different time zones may have an adverse effect on a person’s health. A small amount of sleep deprivation is enough to make a person more prone to contracting a head cold.

Another study from 2009 revealed that participants that slept less than seven hours every night during a 14-day period were more likely to become ill than people that slept for eight or more hours during the same period. The study also showed that people that slept less than six hours each night were four times more likely to come down with the common cold than people that slept at least seven hours. As the amount of sleep goes down, those chances become even higher.

Changing time zones is also very harsh on the body. And it is worse when people are traveling from west to east. This is because the body passes multiple time zones, which increases the body’s stress level and that then has adverse effects on the circadian rhythm cycle. Stress is one of the more common reasons why our immune system weakens. Rushing after flights and a hectic schedule all add to this.

Fortunately, there are many steps that travelers may take to circumvent this. There are many obvious ones like washing your hands often with soap and water. A less common one is to receive a flu shot before traveling. For older travelers, there are even pneumonia vaccines.

People also need to stay hydrated because flying usually has a dehydrating effect on the body. Moving around, walking, and stretching needs to be done often as well since sitting in the same position for prolonged periods increases the risk of blood clots.

Finally, people need to make a concerted effort to keep a healthy sleep schedule. Exposing yourself to as much daylight as possible is also crucial. They also need to go to bed earlier and avoid sleeping during the day to minimize the effects of jet lag on the body.

As with everything in life, maintaining good habits is vital.

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