A few weeks ago, shortly after the news of the potential severity of the influenza A?(H1N1) virus, also known as swine flu, broke, my co-worker’s three-year-old daughter asked, “Mommy, do you know what hygiene is?”
She had recently had a lesson in daycare about general cleanliness and, more specifically, the importance of hand washing.
A cute question from a precocious toddler, but also a question I thought all of us who ride transit might ask ourselves, too. The barrage of media coverage about H1N1 has certainly abated over the last few weeks, and so it seems has the level of fear amongst the general public.
Last week, Isra Levy, the city’s chief medical officer of health, said we must remain vigilant about protecting ourselves from potential infection, and there are still many active cases of H1N1 in the city, especially in the school system. It’s a salient reminder to practise frequent hand washing and the proper sneeze-into-the-sleeve technique, no matter what stories are dominating the headlines.
As bus riders we are a particularly captive audience for germs. Close proximity to our fellow riders and the necessity of having to grab bars and doors and other surfaces that have been touched by countless others means we could be exposing ourselves to all kinds of bugs.
I admit I am a bit of a germaphobe — a condition I think I picked up while living in Toronto and riding the subway at the height of the SARS outbreak. It’s why I prefer taking public transit in the winter, when my hands are safely shrouded in gloves or mittens.
I don’t consider myself totally paranoid, but I do tend to wash my hands as soon as I can after getting off the bus, and try not to touch my face, mouth or eyes too much. And, yes, I have hand sanitizer at the ready in my bag.
Recently, I’ve noticed an increase in the number of “remember to wash your hands” placards from Ottawa public health displayed on buses, and I see other people whipping out the travel bottles of hand sanitizer, too. So maybe we as transit riders are a generally germaphobic lot, or maybe we are just getting the message.
I’m certainly not one to advocate hysteria, because the chances of catching H1N1 are still quite slim, but as a courtesy to the huge cross-section of people who ride the bus — from babies to elderly citizens — it’s always a good idea to try to minimize the spread of germs.