By Luisa Dillner, February 27, 2014
Commuters arrive to Grand Central station from a Metro North train on Jan. 22, 2014 in New York City.
The late-night shops, the
diverse population, the variety of restaurants, culture and clubs –
what's not to love about living in a city? Well, how about the air
pollution, germ-ridden public transport and stress?
If cities pose
a health risk, how can you fight back? What can you do to avoid filling
your lungs with small pollutant particlesthat increase your risk of
heart disease, asthma, chronic bronchitis and lung cancer? Can you
travel by bus, underground system or train without catching a nasty
Colds and flu
Just getting on public transport in a city at
rush hour means you are likely to be exposed to somebody else's virus. A
study in Nottingham funded by the Health Protection Agency found that
people were six times more likely to end up at the doctor with a cold or flu if they had recently used a bus or tram.
anywhere with people in a confined area – offices, concert venues,
lifts – poses a risk. Common places to pick up viruses are on a
handrail, door handle or light switch. Of course, you can't avoid
touching everything – but try not to touch your eyes or nose, because
that's how viruses infect you.
Wearing gloves can reduce the risk, as can frequent and thorough handwashing with soapy water, or the use of antiseptic hand washes.
But facemasks aren't the solution. A close-fitting, N2-type facemask
may reduce airborne viral infections, but you'd have to wear them a lot
and it's probably not worth the hassle. But there can be cultural
considerations – in many Asian countries, especially Japan, wearing a
mask on public transport is often considered good etiquette to prevent
your own germs from spreading.
Nearly 30,000 deaths a
year are hastened by people being exposed to air pollution, according
to the government's committee on the medical effects of air pollution.
Ozone, nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide can all exacerbate asthma,
but the real villains are the fine particles (PM10 and PM2.5) that
increase the risk of heart attacks (by getting into the blood stream),
of chronic obstructive airways disease and of lung cancer.