Scientists have planned a pandemic for decades and transportation hubs are widely regarded as points of infection, with virus transmission rates up to six times higher for those using public transportation systems.
Planes, trains and buses (and stations and airports to cross) are in many respects the perfect environment for diseases such as the spread of droplets such as coronavirus to thrive (Covid-19).
Viruses are thought to spread largely through droplets that land on shared surfaces. People get the virus when they touch infected hands in the face – something we all do 20-30 times an hour.
We have reviewed the evidence to provide you with the best tips for staying healthy during your daily commute, business trip or family vacation:
Metro and trains
Research published in BMC Infectious Diseases has found that those who use public transportation during flu outbreaks are six times more likely to get an acute respiratory infection.
This is especially true in densely populated cities like London, where a woman was confirmed to have Covid-19 on Wednesday night.
The subway, which serves around 1.2 billion passengers annually, is a particular hotspot, according to an article published in Environmental Health magazine in 2018.
Those most at risk were found to be commuters who have long journeys or use busy interchange stations, as they come into contact with multiple surfaces and shared people.
For example, commuters living in the northern district of Highbury and Islington travel predominantly on the Northern or Victoria lines and are likely to change at Kings Cross St Pancras – London’s busiest station – on the way to their destination.
The researchers also found that districts with fewer metro stations have higher infection rates, as these stops tend to be more crowded.
In contrast, commuters in areas without underground stops saw fewer cases of flu-like illness over a six-month period.
This map shows the flu-like virus infection rates in London’s districts and the busiest underground stations:
Traveling at peak times is one way of mitigating the risk of getting an infection on the tube. But even in this case, it is possible to collect droplets of respiratory diseases from surfaces such as poles, handles and seats or even the handrail of the escalator.
To reduce the risk, make sure to wash your hands or use a disinfectant after leaving the subsoil and not to touch your face or bite your nails while traveling.
Beware of airports
In 1918 the Spanish flu pandemic infection spread internationally largely through ships and ports. Today airports are what transform localized epidemics into global pandemics.
In a study released a few days before the deadly Chinese coronavirus was first identified, the researchers found that speeding up hand washing at 10 of the world’s most “influential” airports could reduce the spread of a respiratory pandemic by 37%. .
The figures, published in the Risk Analysis Journal at the end of December, indicate that the figure could reach 69% if applied to all airports around the world.
Security checks are believed to be the highest risk areas at airports. A study published by researchers from the University of Nottingham and the Finnish National Institute for Health and Well-Being found that half of all plastic luggage racks at security checkpoints housed at least one respiratory disease such as a cold or the flu.
The trays, which are shared thousands of times but rarely washed, collect debris from people’s pockets and personal belongings and have been found to have more germs than even the airport’s toilet facilities.
There are other airport hotspots where passengers would be advised to wipe their hands after passing.
The same study, published in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases, found that chip and pin vending machines in airport pharmacies were particularly prone to host viruses.
Handrails on escalators, armrests on waiting area seats, and the constant passing of tickets and passports to airline and security staff may also present some risks.
Many international airports offer hand sanitizers to passengers. Unfortunately, Public Health England did not request British airport operators to do so. We therefore advise you to take one of your own, using it immediately after paying for it in the pharmacy.
Insects on an airplane
Many are aware that confined aircraft cabins carry the risk of catching viruses, but above all for wrong reasons.
Most studies suggest that it is not the recycled cabin air that poses the greatest risk (it passes through sophisticated filters) but the droplets distributed by passengers and cabin staff moving up and down the main corridors.
A study by scientists from Emory University in the United States found that an infected plane assistant could become a “super-spreader” as they constantly move up and down on the plane.
He concluded that the best place to sit was in the center of the plane in a place near the window to escape this particular risk. Increase your chances of staying free of infections by staying in your seat for the duration of the flight. If you can’t find a seat by the window, the second seat is a central seat instead of a corridor – see below:
If a passing companion is infected and sitting nearby, there is less to do. The study found that those seated in a row or two seats on the sides of an infected passenger were 80% likely to catch an insect, regardless of what type of place you are in.
During the Sars epidemic of 2003, 25 airline passengers were notoriously infected by a single passenger. Some sat up to seven rows in front and five rows behind the index case.
Bus and tram
Less research has been done looking at the spread of the disease on buses, but a study on BMC infectious diseases in 2011 found that bus or tram use was associated with an almost six times greater risk of developing a flu-like infection during the flu season.
Although tuberculosis spreads differently to the flu, another study conducted in Houston in 2011 found that the incidence of tuberculosis was almost eight times higher among commuters who spent more than an hour a day on the bus.
The study, published in the journal Tuberculosis, identified 10 bus lines where tuberculosis infections were most common – many of these routes outperformed the city’s hospitals.
When traveling by bus, try to sit in a quiet area, pay attention to the surfaces and handrails you touch and, as always, wash your hands when you get off.
Taxi: sit behind the driver
Taxis should be relatively safe in the event of a pandemic but they are closed spaces. There have been no scientific studies, but security experts recommend that the safest place to sit is directly behind the driver.
This is because all drivers tend to steer to protect themselves in an accident and also because drivers with malicious intentions can be checked from behind by pulling the seat belt behind the shoulder.
Droplets are also less likely to land on you if the driver coughs or sneezes.
Walk if you can
It is not always possible, but the best way to get around the virus is almost certainly by walking or cycling. Regular exercise of at least 150 minutes per week also protects you from the heart and other vascular diseases, a much greater health risk than long-term coronavirus.
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