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Not to freak anyone out, but have you ever considered how many millions of germs you’re exposed to on an airplane? Just think about it — you’re in this tightly-packed, hovering pod, and everyone’s breathing in the same, precious air that’s been coughed up and sneezed out over and over again. Yum.

I don’t know about you, but I prefer my air fresh and, well, uncontaminated. Thankfully, there is a way make the air you breath in on a plane a little more clean.

Dr. Mark Gendreau, vice chair of emergency medicine at a Massachusetts-based hospital, recently told  Travel + Leisure  that keeping the air vent above your seat on during a flight could help you evade an airborne illness.

“The flow pattern of air on an aircraft doesn’t necessarily work front to back, or back to front. It’s actually compartmentalized into various sections on the aircraft,” Dr. Gendreau explained. “As a rule of thumb, the air that you’re typically breathing and exposed to is usually anywhere from two to five rows surrounding your seat.”

Each of these ‘compartments’ automatically filter air through a network of overhead nozzles that connects the inside of the plane to the outside. This system clears away most of the dust and microbes by expelling half of it outside, and recycling the other half about 15 to 30 times every hour. In other words, a lot of the air you breath in on a plane is in fact clean. However, certain viruses, like measles and the common cold, are heavier than most microbes, so they can remain in the air for up to five hours, regardless of the plane’s filtration system. And since planes have a low humidity level (which can cause your protective mucous to dry), you’re practically asking to get sick on a flight.

But don’t avoid flying altogether. Instead, just turn on that miniature air vent right above your seat on your next flight. The airflow’s direction and force forms an invisible force field against microbes by pushing them to the ground, away from your mouth and nose.

“For airborne viruses, it is incredibly important to ventilate, since ventilation becomes your main means of control besides isolating the affected person,” said Dr. Gendreau.

So even if you’re feeling a bit chilly, be sure to keep your personal vent on. It’s better to be safe than sorry, right?

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