5 everyday places cold and flu viruses linger

Sniffling commuters could leave you battling a cold this winter. [Photo: Getty]
Sniffling commuters could leave you battling a cold this winter. [Photo: Getty]

Many of us have already been struck down with colds or flu this sniffle season.

While we manically disinfect our desks and turn away from coughing commuters, it can be difficult to avoid infection.

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You may not realise cold and flu viruses can linger up to 48 hours after being “sneezed out” by a struck-down sufferer.

READ MORE: Can 'old wives' tales' really help fight colds?

“A flu virus particle is just one 10,000th of a millimetre across,” Dr Chris Smith, consultant virologist and head of the “Naked Scientists” at the University of Cambridge, told Yahoo UK.

“At this minuscule scale, the particles can readily bob about in the air, usually suspended inside small droplets of water coughed or sneezed out by an infected individual.

“That said, surfaces, such as door knobs, telephones, handrails and other people's hands themselves are also potential sources.

“In nursery settings, the toybox is a major culprit.”

If “caught” in fabric, like a tissue, cold and flu viruses survive for around eight hours, Dr Lisa Ackerley, chartered environmental health practitioner and spokesperson for Jakemans, told Yahoo UK.

However, if the pathogen lands on a hard surface, it could stick around for up to 48 hours.

“If you touch something in a public place it’s quite possible for someone to have deposited viruses onto the surface,” Dr Ackerley said.

5 places cold and flu viruses linger

Public transport

As if gloomy mornings were not off-putting enough, sharing a train with spluttering passengers can make commuting even tougher.

“You can pick up all sorts on your hands as you travel in; colds, flu, norovirus,” Dr Ackerley told Yahoo UK.

Some germaphobes are even reluctant to hold onto rails on buses, tubes or trams.

Dr Ackerley reassures, however, the sniffles don’t have to be inevitable.

“Germs that are just on your hands won’t make you ill as there is no transfer into the body,” she said.

“If the virus is on your finger and then you rub your eye, or put your finger up nose, that’s a route of infection.

READ MORE: Who should get the flu vaccine?

“Assume your hands are ‘dirty’, and wash them with regular soap and warm water when you get to the office.”

To stay germ-free, a good hand-washing technique is essential.

“The rubbing action dislodges the microbes from your hands, down the plughole,” Dr Ackerley said.

“Do it for 20 seconds; sing happy birthday twice in your head.”

And even if there is a queue for the hand dryer, Dr Ackerley stresses it is “one extra process of preventing transmission”.

“Wet hands can transfer viruses more effectively than dry hands,” she said.

Supermarket trolley

With thousands flocking to superstores every day, it could be easy to come into contact with a virus while doing your weekly shop.

“Children may have been sitting in a trolley; there could be snot all over the place!” Dr Ackerley said.

To stay fit and well, the medic recommends scrubbing your hands as soon as you get home.

“People often load the shopping in the car, get home hungry and open a bag of crisps, not realising their hands are dirty,” she said.

And when in the comfort of our own vehicle, it may be easy to become complacent.

“When we’re in a car, we’re in our own bubble and may rub our eyes as we drive along,” Dr Ackerley said.

Mobile phone

Many rely on their phones for emails, reminders and to get them from A to B.

We may not appreciate, however, the hard surface can be home to viruses for up to 48 hours.

“If your hand is dirty, you then touch your phone and forget about it,” Dr Ackerley said.

READ MORE: Why you should never sleep with the heating on

“You may then wash your hands, before touching your phone again, ‘reinfecting’ yourself.”

Dr Ackerley added, however, mobiles are unlikely a major source of contamination, with most not passing their personal device around.

“Your phone may not get touched by other people,” she said.

Computer keyboards

Modern offices often encourage workers to hot desk to reduce clutter, engage with colleagues and boost efficiency.

But moving from desk-to-desk could leave an entire company sneezing.

“The etiquette in many offices is people go into work when they’re ill,” Dr Ackerley said.

“If you hot desk and spray your germs all over the place, every surface in that cubicle will be contaminated.”

To stay well, the medic recommends you start the day by disinfecting your desk with a product that claims to be anti-viral.

“Once you sit down and work you get wrapped up in what you’re doing,” she said. “You could easily rub your eyes without thinking.”

Lift buttons

While it may seem extreme, think how many colleagues ride that same lift every day, spreading their germs as they go.

“There is a lot to be said for being careful,” Dr Ackerley said.

“If you know you fidget, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to wash your hand after touching things others have touched.

“Make sure your hands are clean before touching your eye or eating.”

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