Photo via MBTA

This flu season is turning out to be a harsh one in the Hub. And with record high ridership on public transportation in Massachusetts, it’s hard to avoid coming into contact with germs festering on the hands and mouths of fellow passengers that have flu-like symptoms.

To help combat the sickness spreading, MBTA managers met with SJ Services, the contractor responsible for cleaning subway cars, and directed workers to pay extra close attention to changing out the water used for cleaning as frequently as possible, and to not re-use rags.

“Transportation managers have also stressed that the cleaners always use latex gloves and focus particularly on grab bars and hand straps,” according to T Spokesman Joe Pesaturo.

Pesaturo said the MBTA also has plans to play public service announcements through the loud speakers on the subway and display messages on digital boards, reminding riders to wash their hands often with soap and water and cover their nose and mouth when sneezing,

But even with all these precautions in place, experts say it’s easy to contract the flu when clustered with congested or coughing passengers.

According to the Center for Disease Control, people can catch the flu from just six-feet away.

“Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs,” according to health officials from the CDC. “Less often, a person might also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.”

Influenza activity “continues to increase in the United States,” and cities all over are experiencing high-reports of the virus—even in Boston.

On Wednesday, Mayor Tom Menino declared a public health emergency in the Hub citing 700 confirmed cases of flu among Boston residents, a ten-fold increase compared to last season.

“This is the worst flu season we’ve seen since 2009, and people should take the threat of flu seriously,” said Menino in a statement.

Statewide, health officials have recorded 18 deaths from influenza so far this season, saying the flu epidemic got “off to an early start,” according to the State House News Service.

Massachusetts General Hospital officials have also seen an uptick in patients that have come down with the flu.

In the past several days, the hospital’s Health Centers, outpatient practices and Emergency Department have been flooded with an additional 40 to 80 patients daily with flu-like illness.

“This has strained [our] capacity to its limits,” according to a statement from the hospital. “Cases are on the rise and have started both early and with an impressive intensity.”

 

With the chances of avoiding contact with others on the train being slim, here are some tips to help riders prevent getting sick in confined spaces like the MBTA’s buses and trains:

  • After you get off the T, wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds. If water is not nearby, use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
  • Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth after holding a railing or strap on the train. Germs can spread this way.
  • As much as possible, avoid close contact with people who are sick. Maybe wrap your scarf around your face while on the MBTA, or take cue from those people you see wearing medical masks.