IAMAT |International Association of Medical Assistance to Travellers| IAMAT |International Association of Medical Assistance to Travellers|

Travel Health Journal

View from airplane window

True or false? The facts on airplane air, Yellow Fever, insurance, and street food

In this edition of True or false?, we take a closer look at myths about airplane air, Yellow Fever certificates, travel health insurance, and street food.

Myth #1: “Breathing airplane air makes you sick.”

A common misconception is that if one passenger on an airplane has an illness, then everyone else on the plane will get sick. These fears can be propelled by news stories such this one, when a flight carrying over 500 people was quarantined in New York due to sick passengers on board. The culprit of the illness, which hospitalized 11, was determined to be the flu.

Is aircraft air to blame?

Airplane cabins are confined spaces that may appear to be the perfect breeding ground for disease. However, airplanes are actually cleaner than most public buildings and their air filtration systems are better at removing most bacteria, fungi and viruses from the circulating air.

Air in a modern aircraft first passes through a high-efficiency particulate filter system (HEPA) and is combined with outside air before circulating in the aircraft cabin. This process significantly decreases the amount of airborne pathogens and the likelihood of contracting an airborne illness.

This information and more is available in: Healthy Travel: A pocket guide for seniors.

The guide is tailored to the health needs of the older traveller and provides advice on a range of topics, including air pollution, travelling with medication, chronic conditions, and travel health insurance.

Before you travel, make sure your routine immunizations are up-to-date. You can also reduce your risk of illness by practising good hand hygiene. Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with water and soap, especially before eating or after using the toilet. If water and soap are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol. Wipe down your tray table and armrest with alcohol-based sanitizer. Avoid touching your face.

Myth #2: “Yellow Fever certificates expire.”

Until recently, this was true for international travellers. Before 2016, Yellow Fever vaccination certificates were only valid for 10 years and travellers had to get re-vaccinated if they needed a new certificate.

As of 11 July 2016, the World Health Organization declared that new and existing Yellow Fever vaccination certificates are valid for life starting 10 days after vaccination. Countries can no longer require travellers to show proof of re-vaccination or a booster dose as a condition of entry. This is great news for travellers who have already been vaccinated: Keep your certificate in a safe place for future trips. Be aware that this new regulation may not be honoured by all border authorities during the transition phase.

In some situations, your health practitioner may recommend that you get a booster dose for your own protection if:

  • You had a compromised immune system when you were vaccinated. For example, you were pregnant, taking medication that suppresses your immune system, or had an illness that suppresses your immune system (such as HIV).
  • You received a fractional dose of the vaccine (meaning you did not receive the full dose due to a vaccine shortage).
  • You frequently travel to areas with high Yellow Fever risk or are going to an area with an active Yellow Fever outbreak and have not been vaccinated in the previous 10 years.
  • You work in a lab with the Yellow Fever virus.

Learn more about Yellow Fever and find out if proof of vaccination is required at your destination with our Country Health Advice database and World Immunization Chart.

IAMAT members can use the Travel Health Planner to check requirements and recommendations for multi-country trips.

Myth #3: “As long as I’m fine with the risks, I don’t need travel health insurance.”

Travel health insurance is a requirement for entry into some countries. If you’re planning a longer trip, you may require proof of insurance for visa purposes.

Regardless of the requirements, it’s wise for most travellers to have travel health insurance coverage. (Many travel experts say: If you can’t afford insurance, you can’t afford to travel.) United States and Canadian public insurance plans provide very limited coverage outside your country of residence. Without insurance, medical bills can be exorbitant and evacuation or repatriation services can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Quick tips from our Guide to Travel Health Insurance:

  • Check your credit cards, membership programs, and work benefits – you may already have some coverage.
  • Shop around and compare providers. The travel insurance comparison sites on our Useful Links page are a good place to start. A broker can also help you with this.
  • Read the fine print of the policy from A to Z before you buy. Understand what’s covered, the coverage limits (the maximum amount the insurer will pay), and the exclusions or restrictions. For help, check out Understanding Travel Health Insurance: Terms You Need to Know
  • If you have any doubts or questions, call the insurer.

Older travellers or travellers with pre-existing medical conditions may have difficulty finding coverage or the premium may be very expensive. If you’re debating whether to get insurance, consider your health status, the length of the trip, your destination, planned activities, and the cost of healthcare for non-residents at your destination. Could you cover the cost of care for an unexpected injury or illness?

Myth #4: “I’ll get sick from eating street food.”

Not necessarily. It’s not always easy to know if a restaurant or food vendor follows proper food handling and hygiene practices such as properly cleaning cutting boards and utensils, regularly washing their hands, or correctly refrigerating food. You can reduce your risk of getting sick by knowing the risks, making safe choices, and practising good hand hygiene.

Choose clean, busy vendors serving freshly cooked, steaming hot food. If a restaurant or vendor’s stall appears unclean or doesn’t have many customers, choose a different place to eat.

Learn more on with our Food and Water Safety tips.


Like what you see?

Check out our past articles about other travel health myths.


Photo by: Jakob Owens, Unsplash.

Article by: Daphne Hendsbee

Travel Health Journal