Germs lurk on subways, but trains still safe to ride
Germs always get a free ride on the subways, but swine flu is making straphangers particularly alarmed about catching more than the train to work.
“I am worried all the time,” said Nicole Wilson, 27, a rider from Rosedale, Queens. “I don’t want to come home to my kids with germs from the train.”
In this climate of swine-flu fear, a sniffly passenger is seen as public enemy No. 1. Just Monday, two women riding on the D train came to blows in Manhattan after one coughed without covering her mouth, said Lawrence Delevingne, a blogger who intervened and later reported the incident on the Business Insider news site.
“There’s just tremendous tensions about swine flu,” Delevingne said.
New Yorkers can take smart steps to manage those tensions. Clouds of bacteria lurk on the subways and buses, but the answer isn’t to avoid the subway .
“The subway air is pretty clean. The problem is the other people,” said Norman Pace, a microbiologist studying city subway air.
Bacteria rise with heat and are emitted in plumes when someone sneezes. Having someone sneeze or cough in your face can make you sick, with germs able to travel at least three feet, said Georges Benjamin, director of the American Public Health Association.
“Absolutely they can catch something. That’s why we try to aggressively get people to cover their mouths,” Benjamin said.
Bacteria can live on surfaces from hours to days depending on humidity, said Laura Baumgartner, a microbiologist studying the city subways. Germs generally survive on plastics, such as the subway seats, longer than metal subway poles and station handrails, she said.
Strains of flu, including H1N1, are generally not contagious after 24 hours, and someone who is ill should do everyone a favor by staying home, said Dr. Albert Levy, assistant professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
The city Department of Health is urging commuters to wash their hands and cough into their elbows. A spokeswoman stressed that the subway are safe.
Subway ridership tanked during a flu epidemic in 1918, when the city health commissioner stated that the disease was rampant on the subways. Current ridership has fallen since last year, but the MTA attributes the slump to the economy, not swine flu fears.
Phoebe Kingsak contributed to this story.
Preventing subway sickness
If you’re not sick:
- Wash your hands or use sanitizer after leaving the train
- Don’t rub your face or eyes with your hands
- Get a flu shot
If you are sick:
- Don’t ride the train if you are feeling ill
- Sneeze into your elbow or hand
- Stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever breaks
(Photo by RJ Mickelson/amNY)