Purell. Germ-X. Nozin. You've seen these and other products advertised widely. But will they really ward off illness? Dr. William Forgey of the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers weighs in.
"It's 65 percent ethyl alcohol, plenty potent at getting rid of germs. Sanitize the armrests and tray tables at your airplane seat by wiping them down with Purell. (It doesn't have to be Purell; generics are OK, too. Just look for the store brand that says 'compares to Purell.') Get a bottle that's three ounces or less so you can get through airport security, and go with a bottle with a screw cap—not a pump bottle that will make a mess in your bag."
"Similar ingredients to Purell, so they're just as effective. The wipes are handy, too—no need to worry about airport restrictions on liquids. Liquids spread better, however, so if you use the wipes, make sure you rub them around well into every nook and cranny of your hand."
Not effective for many travelers
"The 50 percent alcohol solution should definitely kill bacteria when you spray this up your nose. The problem is that it evaporates pretty quickly, so I doubt the effects last long."
"This is the top-of-the-line stuff that doctors use. It's harder to find and more expensive than the more common brands, but it's loaded with alcohol and other active ingredients and is incredibly good at killing bacteria and germs. Comes in wipes, too."
Airborne Health Formula Eboost Echinacea Vitamin-C Supplements
"There's simply no data showing that these sorts of holistic dietary supplements help travelers fight off germs or prevent illness. They're totally unproven, and I have nothing positive to say about them."
Maybe it works
"Hooking this up to the fan over your airplane seat gives you a constantly refreshed source of clean air, which is great in a confined space like a plane. But while I'm impressed with the concept, there's only so much it can do. It won't help much if the person next to you coughs in your direction. Or if the flight attendant prevents you from attaching it for some reason."
"Oddly enough, these are best at keeping the wearer from spreading germs to other people, not vice versa. Most people won't wear them properly anyway. On a long flight, a mask is really difficult to put up with; a half-hour into the flight, chances are the mask will be down below your nose so you can breathe more freely."
Soap and water
"Washing your hands remains the single most important way to avoid getting sick. Any soap will do the job—in a pitch, just water works too—the hotter the better. To use a catchphrase, the solution to pollution is dilution, so you want to really rinse off, especially before you eat and after you use the bathroom."