From buses to trains, public transport can be a hotbed of germs. Here’s how to boost your defences
No one wants to be stuck next to that person on their daily commute who’s sneezing, sniffing and spluttering their way through the journey, but how great is your risk of catching something?
Well, pretty high, according to a 2011 study at the University of Nottingham. Researchers discovered that people were six times more likely to catch an acute respiratory infection if they’d used a bus or tram in the five days before they got ill.1
Why is public transport a breeding ground for bugs?
Public transport is generally poorly ventilated, with passengers often sitting or standing in close proximity. So, if there’s someone on board with an infection who hasn’t washed their hands or isn’t covering their mouth properly when they cough, respiratory infections can spread more easily.2
With government figures showing that 4,941 million bus journeys and 1,731 million train journeys were made in Great Britain in 2016/17, that’s plenty of potential for you to pick up something nasty.3
What could you catch on your commute?
It’s not only coughs, colds and flu we need to worry about. In 2017, research by London Metropolitan University found 121 different bacteria and mould on the city’s public transport system – some from rodents and sewage – which, if you come into contact with, can cause skin infections like abscesses.4
Meanwhile, an investigation by scientists at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that more than 25% of commuters in five cities in England and Wales had bacteria from faeces on their hands! The researchers also said that if any of those people had diarrhoea, it could easily be passed on if they failed to wash their hands after using the toilet.5
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How to protect yourself on public transport
If you commute by train or bus every day, there’s potentially some good news: the University of Nottingham study found that the risk of contracting a respiratory infection was lower for those who used public transport more frequently, compared with those who travelled occasionally.6 This suggests that repeated exposure to viruses could mean that we develop immunity to them.
If you’ve been touching handrails, door buttons and other communal areas while on the move, avoid touching your nose or eyes afterwards in case you’ve come into contact with a virus, as this is one way that they enter the body.7 Always wash your hands with warm soap and water after travelling, or use an alcohol-based hand gel.8
Give your immune system a boost
A major review published in the British Medical Journal in 2017 found that increasing your intake of vitamin D could reduce the risk of acute respiratory tract infection.9 The researchers found that the nutrient can help generate amino acids that fight against infection, warding off respiratory problems.
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There’s also evidence that meditation can impr+ove your immunity. In a 2016 study from the journal Translational Psychiatry, healthy women aged 30-60 attended a six-day meditation retreat. Researchers took blood samples to measure certain biological markers linked to stress and immune function. At the end of the study, the women showed improvements in both those areas.10
Another good reason not to skip that yoga class before work…
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Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
1. Troko J, et al. Is public transport a risk factor for acute respiratory infection? Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3030548/
2. As above
3. Department for Transport: Transport Statistics Great Britain: 2017. Available from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/664323/tsgb-2017-print-ready-version.pdf
4. The bacteria and mould lurking on London’s public transport. Available from: https://www.londonmet.ac.uk/news/articles/the-bacteria-and-mould-lurking-on-londons-public-transport/
5. Judah G, et al. Dirty hands: bacteria of faecal origin on commuters’ hands. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19723362
6. As Source 1
7. NHS Choices: Common cold. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/common-cold/#prevention
8. Mayo Clinic: Influenza. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/flu/symptoms-causes/syc-20351719
9. Martineau AR, et al. Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data. Available from: https://www.bmj.com/content/356/bmj.i6583
10. Epel ES, et al. Meditation and vacation effects have an impact on disease-associated molecular phenotypes. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/tp2016164