As any commuter will tell you, the threat of catching a cold is everywhere – from your sniffling co-passenger to that handrail everyone’s been touching. And it’s not just paranoia; one study by the University of Nottingham in 2011 found those who use public buses or trams were up to six times more likely to catch the common cold.
In fact, up to 15% of the population will be struck down with a cold virus during the winter months, according to data from the World Health Organisation.
Here are some top tips to help you avoid picking up a cough or cold on public transport this winter.
As sneezes and coughs can travel a large distance very quickly, standing sideways to them is safer than standing directly opposite. If they do sneeze or cough, try not to breathe in for a few seconds.
Surfaces like handles, buttons and handrails are key places for cold viruses to linger, but whether you pick them up depends on the length of time the virus has been on the surface, the amount of virus deposited by an infected person and, if you then transfer the bugs by touching your eyes and nose, the ‘optimal portal’ for entry.
If you see a sick person touching certain surfaces, avoid contact with the same ones but if you have to, definitely don’t touch your nose or eyes afterwards.
There is no particular ‘hotspot’ for colds and other viruses on public transport; it can be any place where people’s hands leave behind a reasonable amount of virus that will then be touched by another person. Be aware of escalator handrails, ticket machines, maps, etc too, not just the handrails on the bus or Tube.
When you’re on the go, use an alcohol-based antibacterial hand gel, known to kill viruses, after taking public transport. However, washing your hands with soap and water is best, so do that when you arrive at work or get home. If you’re really worried, it doesn’t hurt to wipe down any handrails with an antiseptic wipe.
Try to sit in emptier areas such as the back of the bus, or in train carriages which are less full than others – this minimises your risk of sitting near infected people.
If you are on a train with windows, try to open them to get as much ventilation as possible – this reduces your risk of breathing in airborne viruses.
And if you’re the one with the cold? Stay at home – as well as protecting your fellow commuters, your colleagues will thank you for not spreading those germs all around the office too.