I used to pride myself on not being a germaphobe. Then I started using OC Transpo buses in winter.
Growing up in England, my parents instilled in me a good old-fashioned “bit of dirt will do you good” attitude to exploring the world around me. Sure, I was taught to wash my hands after playing in the garden, and to cover my mouth when sneezing. But it never occurred to me that public transit could be the source of a nasty array of infectious diseases.
My wake-up call came not on the London Underground or Toronto subway, but one chilly December day at Somerset and Preston. I stood waiting for the 2 with a man who smoked a cigarette, then coughed generous quantities of mucus into his hands. When he got on the bus, he wiped his hands all over one of the poles. I started wearing gloves.
Now nursing student Jenn St. Jean has started a Facebook campaign to get hand sanitizers installed on OC Transpo buses. Her campaign page states, “the risk of transmitting and/or acquiring an infection is very high. One way to cut the risk is by implementing one hand sanitizer on OC Transpo buses. Malls and businesses have hand sanitizers dispersed around the building, why not the buses?”
Despite my encounter with the coughing man, the idea does not appeal to me. The world is divided into those who understand personal hygiene, and those who don’t. It’s going to take more than a few hand sanitizers to convince those who don’t to stop bringing their nasty habits onto the buses.
There’s also a difference between good hygiene and paranoia. I once saw a parent on a bus tell her son, “don’t touch anything. There are nasty people with germs.” That’s excessive.
To me, exposing a child to several bouts of cold or flu is infinitely preferable to instilling in them a lifelong fear of the world around them. Perhaps it’s a transatlantic cultural difference. In England, we don’t have drugstores the size of train stations, and manufacturers of cold medications don’t sponsor “flu reports” on the TV weather.
While I’m now more conscious of public transit hygiene, and that’s definitely a good thing, I’m trying not to become consumed by it. Last month, OC Transpo banned atheist ads stating, “there’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy life.” I’d like to live by the philosophy: “Exposure to germs is necessary to build a healthy immune system. Wash your hands. And stop worrying and enjoy life.”