Am I More Likely To Get The Flu If I Use Public Transit? Here Are Some Steps You Can Take To Protect Yourself

Ad failed to load

We're in the thick of it, folks.

This year's especially intense flu season is only now approaching its peak, so if you have been able to avoid the illness thus far, you're not quite out of the woods yet. While you may be doing everything you see possible to avoid infection (flu shots are still widely available!), germs lurk EVERYWHERE, and taking shelter in your house for the rest of the season is not very realistic. One question many (especially those who live in cities) are asking is: Am I more likely to get the flu if I use public transit?

Let's first look at the facts: flu is a term used to describe the variety of respiratory ailments caused by any of the influenza viruses. Its symptoms include sore throat, congestion, headache, fatigue, and fever, among others. Many years ago a flu diagnosis effectively meant a death sentence, but at present, the flu is not typically fatal. Though it can be very dangerous when it presents more seriously in children, and infects individuals considered higher risk (the elderly, those with compromised immune systems), according to the CDC.

Ad failed to load

The flu is believed to spread primarily through mucus droplets in the air after someone sneezes or coughs (particularly when someone sneezes or coughs directly ON someone), according to the CDC. Less likely but still possible is infection when someone comes into contact with these droplets on a surface, as well as transmission simply through breathing, according to a recent study conducted by the University of Maryland and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


So how does this affect your bus or train ride to work?

Ad failed to load

Research published in 2011 in BMC Infectious Diseases details a controlled study performed during the 2008-2009 flu season that explored the link between development of an acute respiratory infection, and an individual's use of public transportation. Researchers were able to determine the use of a bus or tram within five days of initial symptom onset was associated with a rate as high as SIX TIMES that of an individual who had not taken public transportation. Further, habitual public transportation use made little difference in the development of an acute respiratory infection.

Another study out of Purdue University explored the prevalence of potentially flu-causing microdroplets on airplanes, and found passengers on a four-hour flight can inhale upwards of 90,000 droplets — some of which undoubtedly carry infections. While it is unlikely you are taking a four hour flight to get to work, this experiment does reveal just how many harmful particles one can be exposed to in a confined area surrounded by other people.

Between these studies and knowing even the basics about respiratory ailments like the flu, one can easily conclude that yes, riding public transportation may indeed increase your flu risk.

Ad failed to load

But don't despair, there are definitely precautions you can take during your commute to decrease this risk. Some of them are fairly basic. For example, if someone near you is coughing, sneezing, or sounds stuffed up, the best thing you can do is try to get away from them. This goes double for kids who seem sick as they notoriously do not have the best sick manners. If you can, avoid touching things like escalator railings or arm rests, and try to sit is less-densely occupied places.

Dr. Mark Dykewicz, a physician and professor at St. Louis University School of Medicine, strongly urges the use of hand sanitizer. In an interview with Jenny Chan and the ABC News Medical Unit, he says, "I would emphasize using any antimicrobial hand gel — I take that on airlines."

Ad failed to load

Public transportation use may somewhat increase your risk of catching the flu, but likely not too much more than spending any time in the general public does. As long as you use common sense and are a diligent hand-washer, you should not have to change your commute.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

Here's Where Your Next Trip Should Be, Based On Your Zodiac Sign

If you've been craving a vacation, now is a good time to take the plunge. According to data collected by travel site Expedia, late winters and early spring are pretty much the best times of the year to go on vacation. Based on average airfare ticket …
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

Bustle's Editors On Jennifer Aniston + Adam Rippon

We've made it to Friday! It's been a pretty hectic week, and the news that Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux are splitting up might have put a damper on your weekend. But, if like many people you have Monday off, hopefully you can sit back and enjo…
By Rachel Simon

This Timeline Of Justin Theroux & Jennifer Aniston's Relationship Will Break Your Heart All Over Again

Just one day after Valentine's Day, actors Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux announced their breakup after seven years together. The celebrity couple, who were married for two-and-half years, separated quietly at the end of last year. This week, th…
By Priscilla Totiyapungprasert

19 Things Your Parents Told You Were Illegal In The '90s

Kids say — and think — the darnedest things. We have overactive imaginations, adults like to mess with us, and we don't always understand everything we hear. That's why some kids call strawberries "straw babies" — a boo-boo so adorable, you don't eve…
By Megan Grant

Why Uggs Are Never Going Away, Whether You Like Them Or Not

Uggs. The word alone can conjure up memories of teenage years, regrettable outfits, and undeniable comfort. But if, like me, you thought that you've already said goodbye to those fleece-lined tan boots, you can think again. It seems fashion has adopt…
By Lauren Sharkey

I Never Want To Write This Essay Again

I don't know where you were when you heard about Wednesday's high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. I don't know what you were doing, or how you tried to process the news. I do know this: you thought to yourself, not again. And yet, again. Of cou…
By Jenny Hollander

Netflix's New Romantic Movie Will Have You Crying Like It's 'The Fault In Our Stars'

Cancer movies are a heartbreaking staple of Hollywood and have been for decades. It's almost a law of nature: new year, new cancer movie. This year, it's Netflix's Irreplaceable You, a heartbreaking original about a longtime couple who get thrown for…
By Olivia Truffaut-Wong

A Study Suggests Drinking Soda Can Affect Your Fertility — But Don’t Freak Out Just Yet

An awful lot of things can affect fecundability — that is, the probability of conceiving within a single menstrual cycle — but can soda really decrease your chances of getting pregnant? A new study suggests that it might, although it turns out that t…
By Lucia Peters

Here Are All The Terms You Need To Know If You’re Watching Olympic Ski Events Right Now

Every four years the Winter Olympics rolls around to remind me that A) there are so many important Winter Olympic sports, and B) I know virtually nothing any of them. And I know for a fact, I'm not alone, I bet most people don't know what the differe…
By Danielle Colin-Thome

Money Actually CAN Buy Happiness — And Science Figured Out Exactly How Much It Costs

You’ve probably heard the saying “Money can’t buy happiness.” Personally, I’d be more than willing to test out that hypothesis myself, but researchers at Purdue University beat me to it. Researchers found that there is an actual amount of money it ta…
By Katie Mitchell

Kate Middleton Made Sales Of This $1 Secret Accessory Spike & She'll Turn You Into A Believer

There's a royal epidemic going on, people. It's one that causes any and everyone to obsess over the royal family's wardrobe and beauty routines, even if it means breaking the bank to look like them. So a frenzy was expected when Kate Middleton report…
By Summer Arlexis

Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu Have Matching Tattoos & The Story Is So Cute

Olympic season gives people the feels. From those shipping Canadian ice dancing pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to Shaun White's gold medal win on Tuesday, the feels are real. Now, there's another reason to get all up in your emotions. Adam Rippon a…
By Shea Simmons

A New Study Says Being In A Relationship Could Change Your Taste In Wine — Here's How

I’d be willing to bet that for many of you, a nice bottle of wine is awaiting you in your near future — and if you’re planning on sharing that bottle with a partner, there might be more to your choice than meets the eye: According to recent research,…
By Lucia Peters

Carrie Brownstein On Why Even The Obama Era Should Have Enraged You

An icy January morning soon after Hollywood's show of solidarity for the #MeToo movement at the Golden Globes and almost exactly one year into the Trump Administration feels like a momentous time to be sitting across from Carrie Brownstein. The Sleat…
By Samantha Rollins

Here’s What The Upcoming Year Of The Dog Means For Your Chinese Zodiac Sign

On Feb. 16 the world will celebrate the Chinese New Year, welcoming the Year of the Dog in like the good doggo it is — we hope. A new year means new zodiac predictions for the 365 days ahead. So, what does the Year of the Dog mean for your Chinese zo…
By Brittany Bennett

7 Signs You're Ready To Get Into A Relationship, According To Experts

It can be difficult to tell when you're ready to start dating again. Maybe you're coming off of a bad breakup, maybe you've just been focused on other things. And, ironically, one of the signs that you're ready to be in a relationship is that you're …
By Lea Rose Emery

I Got A Breast Reduction & It Was About So Much More Than The Size Of My Boobs

As a young teenager, I pretty much reached peak physical maturity overnight. One day I was wearing my first training bra a la Lizzie McGuire, and the next I was sweatily fumbling around a Victoria’s Secret with 32DD boobs, trying to summon up the cou…
By Sierra Taylor Horton

This Is, Hands Down, The *Grossest* Thing Babies Do Inside The Womb

Your baby's life in the womb may be safe and warm, but it's also kind of grody. Seriously, the whole process of growing into a human being includes more than a few icky moments along the way. But this is the grossest thing babies do inside the womb b…
via Romper

The 15 Best Fiction Books Of February Feature Tons Of Extraordinary Women

When the cold winds of February blow in, there's nothing I want more than to hide under my covers with a good book. Luckily, there's more than a few fantastic new fiction books coming out this month, so the only tough decision you'll have to make is …
By Melissa Ragsdale

These 10 Drugstore Red Lipsticks Are Under $10 & Actually *Amazing*

I adore makeup. There are few things I like more than getting myself fancied up in the mornings. It's a little ritual I get to do every day that makes me feel prettier and more put together. When my makeup is on, I'm ready to face the world — pun int…
via Romper

17 Moms Reveal The Most Disgusting Part Of Their Pregnancy

Pregnant bodies do weird-ass things. Weird-ass, gross things. I mean, my pregnant body did (twice), and I have long-suspected I'm not alone. So I asked other moms to share the most disgusting part of their pregnancy and I learned that, not only am I …
via Romper