Blasting a myth: Catching the bus makes you no more likely to catch the flu

 

Good news for commuters - doctors have suggested that, in spite of popular belief, people who use public transport are no more likely to catch flu than those who drive or cycle.

In fact, people who do not take public transport are slightly more likely to catch it than the poor souls who cram themselves into trains and buses every morning, according to research.

A survey of nearly 6,000 British people undertaken by doctors from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that there was "absolutely no indication" that buses and trains are the hotbed of viruses they are often thought to be.

Dr Alma Adler, a researcher in the field of infectious diseases, said that the results "discount [an] age old myth".

"Intuitively it might not be what you'd expect," she said. "But how often does someone actually sneeze in your face on the Tube? It's believed the droplets of flu in the air are a less effective way of spreading the disease than touching - and people don't do much face-to-face interaction on public transport."

The discovery was made by analysis of this year's annual Flusurvey report. Participants were asked to record whether or not they experienced flu-like symptoms and to give information about their lifestyles. The two sets of data were combined to create a picture of trends in the spread of flu in the UK, particularly during the winter months.

Dr Adler said that because the survey collected information direct from the public, rather than from hospitals or GPs, it could be more effective at mapping infection, because many people with flu do not visit a doctor and so do not show up in surveillance. 

Participants were asked to report whether they had flu, and to rate how bad their symptoms were on a scale of one to 100.

The researchers said they also may have also debunked another common myth about flu - that men complain more about it than women: a condition known commonly as "man-flu".

"In our sample 36.7 per cent of men versus 49.6 per cent of women reported a flu-like illness at least once," said Dr Adler. "Not only are women more likely to report flu,"  she said. "They actually reported feeling worse than the men did."

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