Want To Avoid The Flu Or Other Illness? Here’s How.

Image courtesy of the Center for Disease Control

It is highly likely that the Coronavirus will show up in the Czech Republic sooner or later, and with hysteria about it overtaking the news, we thought it might be a good idea to pass along some information about steps you can take to avoid it and other types of respiratory infection.

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In truth, in terms of transmission, the Coronavirus is not that different from the flu which is currently making its way through the country with a more brutal “season” than in years past. If you’ve been online recently you’ve likely noticed, perhaps for the first time, advertisements for masks, gloves, or other tools to aid in the prevention of contracting a virus. Unfortunately, most of these will not work, but the good news is that one of the most important things you can do to avoid getting sick was probably instilled in you by your mother or father from the time you were very small… and the other, has a lot to do with simple common sense. We’ll get to these in a moment.

Image courtesy of @modernwolo via unsplash.com

Living in Prague, many of us use public transport – and why wouldn’t we? In a city like Los Angeles, public transit is generally a last resort, but people from cities like San Francisco, Boston, New York, or Prague know that taking public transit is an experience unto itself and in addition to being better for the planet overall, it can often be more convenient in the long run. But, despite its convenience, one of the definite downsides is the fact that you’re crammed into a vehicle with a ton of people – many of them coughing, sneezing, and who knows what else.

Image of highly magnified, digitally colorized Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) virion courtesy of the Center for Disease Control.

Czech’s it seems, and maybe others a well, don’t seem to have been taught to cough into their arm. It’s all too common on trams, the metro, and buses to watch (in disgust) as someone coughs into their hand and then, seconds later, places that same hand on the hand rails or presses the button to open the door at a stop. Of course, people do far worse before they touch the rails, too, but that’s a whole other article. 

Back to prevention, the two most important things you can do to prevent the spread of germs (your and others) is to: A. Be aware, and B. Wash your hands.

It’s typical to get onto public transit and immediately turn on some music in your headphones, keep your head down and scroll through the various apps on your phone, but given that covid-19 (the clinical name for the Coronavirus) is reaching pandemic status, it might be a good idea – more than ever – to have some spacial awareness. We’re not advising that you let paranoia grip you, and in point of fact, just because someone is coughing doesn’t mean they have the Coronavirus or even the flu… but with flu season in full swing it would be prudent to take a look at who is standing or sitting around you. If someone is coughing or sneezing, it might be a good idea to move away to another part of the vehicle. “Any congregation of people is a setup for spreading an infectious agent,” said Stanley Perlman, an infectious-disease expert at the University of Iowa in an interview with The Washington Post. So that’s awareness covered.

Next. Wash your hands. Simple enough. A friend who is a kindergarten teacher recently held an interesting lesson to try and visualize for her young students how easily germs are spread. She had all of the kids wash their hands. Next, she took a small bit of hand lotion and gave it to half of the kids while the other half waited on the other side of the room. The kids with the lotion then got a sprinkle of green glitter which the lotion made stick to their hands more than glitter usually does. Now she had the kids with the glittery hands go around the room and touch various items and even the other kids – the ones without glitter. Inevitably, the glitter got onto everything and the little ones were amazed at how, even if they hadn’t been given the lotion or the glitter, they still ended up covered in the stuff.  

Image courtesy of the Center for Disease Control

While not exactly how transmission works, it’s basically that simple. If discussion of bodily fluids makes you nauseous you might want to skip the next bit…

When an infected person coughs or sneezes, small drops of saliva or mucus are expelled. If you then come into contact with any of those droplets – either because they fall on you or, say, the person coughed into their hand and then grabs onto that handrail in the tram – you can, and likely will, become infected.

According to an interview in National Geographic with Emily Landon, medical director of antimicrobial stewardship and infection control at the University of Chicago Medicine, the hospital’s guidelines for influenza define exposure as being within six feet of an infected person for 10 minutes or longer which is why moving to another part of the tram or metro – away from someone who is coughing or sneezing – may help your chances of avoiding illness. “Time and distance matters,” says Landon.

Respiratory illnesses can also be spread by remaining on the surfaces where they landed or were contacted through touch – hand rails, door buttons/handles, elevator buttons, etc. And how long those germs can last on a surface depends on a number of factors including the type of surface. A virus could theoretically lie in wait for months. 

Then there’s transmission through the air in aerosol form, though, according to Arnold Monto, professor of epidemiology and global public health at the University of Michigan, it’s not the major mechanism of transmission. 

So, again, wash your hands frequently. The CDC recommends washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after using the restroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose or sneezing. They also advise not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth, and recommend cleaning objects and surfaces you frequently touch. You’d be surprised how much the average person touches their face in a day.

In the movie CONTAGION (which, by the way, in light of the Coronavirus outbreak, has leapt to the Top 10 on iTunes – nearly a decade after its release), a scientist notes that the average person “touches their face anywhere from 2000 to 3000 times a day.” While this may be exaggerated, the reality is not far off.

Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures via iTunes.

In a recent study by the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, MD., researchers performed a random study of 249 people in public places and noted how often they touched a common surface and then their face. They found that people touched their faces an average of 3.6 times per hour, and common objects an average of 3.3 times per hour. That means your co-worker is touching his or her face nearly thirty times in an eight hour shift. Another study by Nicas noted that a group of 10 Berkley students touched their face an average of 16 times an hour. At this rate, people likely get germs on their hands much more frequently than they wash their hands. 

So there it is. Your best way to avoid the flu or, in a worst case scenario, exposure to the Coronavirus, is to wash your hands and stop touching your face!

Shaun O'Banion

Shaun O'Banion

Shaun O'Banion is a Gotham Award-winning independent film producer, writer, and teacher who has been living and working in Prague since 2015.
Shaun O'Banion
About Shaun O'Banion 64 Articles
Shaun O'Banion is a Gotham Award-winning independent film producer, writer, and teacher who has been living and working in Prague since 2015.