Avoiding germs while riding public transportation

Planes, trains, buses, the subway—we often rely on public transportation to take us from point A to point B safely, cheaply, and efficiently. But it’s important to make sure you don’t pick up any nasty germs when you’re en route to your destination.

Here are some general tips to help avoid germs while riding public transportation:

  • Avoid sitting next to a passenger who is clearly sick (for example, coughing and sneezing). If possible, move seats!
  • Do a “seat check” before sitting down. Don’t sit in a seat that is visibly soiled. If you have an assigned seat, call a flight/transportation attendant and ask to be moved.
  • Wash your hands as soon as possible after you reach your destination and exit public transportation. Metal poles, straps, tray tables, seat belts, and other surfaces passengers touch are often contaminated with microbes and bacteria.
  • Carry alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you when you aren’t able to wash your hands.

In fact, it’s important to clean your hands often. Clean your hands after using the bathroom; after sneezing, blowing your nose, or coughing; before eating; after touching things that many other people have touched; or whenever your hands are dirty.

Vomit on planes
You can get sick from being around someone else’s vomit—from contagious diseases like norovirus, which causes vomiting, diarrhea, and can cause severe dehydration. If there is blood in the vomit, it’s possible that hepatitis or HIV could be transmitted. Other illnesses such as the flu, and viruses like Ebola are also transmitted through bodily fluids such as vomit. So what do you do when someone vomits on a flight?

Here are some tips to help you avoid getting sick:

  • If at all possible, avoid sitting in or next to a seat that has been vomited on—the airline should re-seat you and clean the seat.
  • If the unfortunate happens, and you can’t avoid it, make sure to cover the seat with a layer of plastic and then a thick, protective blanket, to avoid any contagious material from touching your clothing and your skin.
  • Wear a face mask (if available) or cover your mouth and nose with a handkerchief or a clean t-shirt to avoid breathing in the fumes.
  • Avoid eating or touching mucous membranes (your eyes, mouth, and nose) during the flight.
  • Wash laundry thoroughly when you arrive at your destination. Immediately remove and wash clothing or items that may be contaminated with vomit or fecal matter. Handle soiled items carefully. Wash laundry with detergent for the longest cycle time available and then machine dry.

Remember: Wash your hands often and well. Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, especially before preparing or eating food, using the restroom, or changing diapers. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not a substitute for washing with soap and water. However, carrying hand sanitizer and/or antibacterial wipes are strongly encouraged—you never know what you’re going to encounter!

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