Yes, Your Commute Might Be Making You Sick


October, as it turns out, is not an optimal time to start sealing yourself into a tin-can of humanity twice a day after years of riding the subway only occasionally.

I just got a new job at The Atlantic, and before that, I worked from home. Writing online doesn’t necessarily involve a lot of leaving the house, and most of the friends I see regularly live within walking distance of me, so for the past two years, I was, at most, a very occasional public-transit user. Because The Atlantic is an august establishment with an office and free snacks, starting this job meant I’d have to return to the subway commute schedule that I abandoned in 2016.

Silently, I braced for the cold I feared that might bring, should my stay-at-home immune system not adjust quickly enough to its get-on-the-train future. And then, for a week, I took Amtraks and subways and shook hands with many incredibly kind strangers, all ready to welcome me into their professional lives.

Reader, I got a cold. And then I got this assignment.

The idea that public transportation will make you sick is an incredibly durable bit of pop-science wisdom, especially when you consider the relatively meager actual data on the topic, according to Stephen Morse, a professor of epidemiology at the Columbia University Medical Center. He says I was right that my newfound commute was a potential culprit, but not necessarily because of its newfoundness.

“I think it’s fair to say that in general, the flu and colds and other things are spread person to person,” Morse told me. “There’s no question that the more contact you have with people, the greater likelihood you are exposing yourself to infection. If you are a hermit and presumably have no contact with people, you are at very low risk.”

As with so many things in my past, leaving my house in general is probably where I went wrong. Before we get too finger-pointy at the subway, though, Morse cautions not to assume causation where mere correlation might be at hand. The main risk factor for contagion is proximity to other potentially sick people, no matter whether those people are on the train, in your office, or standing in line to get a lunchtime chopped salad just like you. So all those smiling faces, welcoming me to my new job with a firm handshake? …read more

Source:: The Atlantic – Health

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