All aboard the bug express!

October 23, 2013

Contagious commuters coughing and spluttering on crowded buses and trains drive Britons to distraction according to a new study by The Co-operative Pharmacy.

To avoid illnesses, such as colds and flu, one in three commuters would steer clear of public transport altogether during the winter months if given an alternative.

One of the most common dislikes for two out of five commuters during winter is someone coughing or sneezing on them or in their face and one in six will choose to miss a bus or train if it looks like there are too many sick people on board.

Two fifths of commuters cover their mouth and nose when on public transport during the winter and almost half move away from passengers who are coughing or sneezing.

Around one in seven admit to being extra careful about what they touch on public transport while one in 25 will pass up on an opportunity to read a free newspaper to avoid catching a cold or flu. One in 13 people even use gloves when touching parking meters.

When it comes to facing up to selfish sneezers, it’s men who are more likely to speak up and ask a fellow passenger to cover their mouth or use a tissue (15 per cent compared to 10 per cent of women), while women are more likely to settle for giving someone a dirty look (37 per cent compared to only 26 per cent of men).

Worryingly, almost half of us are happy to spread bugs around by going in to work with heavy colds or flu with almost a third of these saying they want their bosses to see that they are ill so they can send them home, rather than having to make the decision themselves to stay at home.

Whilst at work, people also go to extreme lengths to avoid catching germs with almost one in seven wiping their keyboard, desk and phone everyday with antibacterial sanitiser. One in eight workers will wash ‘clean’ cups and crockery themselves before using them.

Women are more germ-conscious than men with 23 per cent using hand sanitiser and 22 per cent washing their hands as soon as they get to work compared to just 14 per cent of men who do either of these.

Jane Devenish, Pharmacy Services and Contracts Development Manager at The Co-operative Pharmacy, said: “Flu is a very common and highly infectious illness and many people take some very sensible precautions to avoid catching colds and flu during the winter months, such as using tissues, throwing them away and washing their hands afterwards. However, having a flu vaccination is the best way to protect yourself from flu and it can also help to protect your family, friends and work colleagues too.

“This study highlights the lengths people go to avoid catching colds and flu on their journey to work and in the office. Sadly though, with so many people continuing to go in to work while sick, in order to be sent home again, this affects everyone they encounter on their journey to work as well as their own colleagues.”

Dr Sarah Jarvis, media doctor and GP, said: “The study by The Co-operative Pharmacy rings alarm bells as we head into winter. Commuters who don’t take sensible precautions to avoid catching or passing on colds and flu, and continue to travel in to work when sick, could lead to the faster spread of viruses in packed trains and buses as well as offices. This ultimately impacts on the nation’s health and costs business more, which is why protecting yourself is so important.”

The Co-operative Pharmacy offers a private flu vaccination service for adults and children aged 12 years old and above from over 440 branches across the UK.

The vaccination costs £9 (£8 for Co-operative Members until 31st December 2013 inclusive, £9 from 1st January 2014) and the vaccine protects against the three most common strains of flu, including H1N1.

A flu vaccination voucher is now available from 570 Co-operative Food stores within close proximity to the 440 Co-operative Pharmacy branches offering the Flu Vaccination Service to enable customers to save £1 off their vaccination.

For more information about how to help prevent colds and flu visit: and go to ‘health services’.

Additional Information:

One Poll questioned 2,000 working adults of all age ranges across the UK in September 2013.

Flu Vaccinations are subject to eligibility, availability of an accredited pharmacist and at the professional discretion of the pharmacist. An appointment may not be necessary.

The Co-operative Pharmacy’s Flu Vaccination Service will be available until 31st March 2014.

Before the vaccination can be administered a pharmacist will conduct a review with the customer.  A consent form must be signed by the parent/guardian of those who are under 16 years old.  The parent/guardian/carer will need to be present when the vaccination is given.

Employers can purchase flu vouchers for its employees from The Co-operative Pharmacy costing only £8 per employee, or less if more than 100 vouchers are paid for in advance. A private flu clinic can also be arranged within the workplace with a specially trained pharmacist. For more information about these services, please email:

Is it a cold or flu?

A cold is a milder respiratory illness than the flu which is a virus.  While cold symptoms can make an individual feel bad for a few days, flu symptoms can make them feel quite ill for a few days to weeks.

Symptoms of a cold include:

  • runny nose, beginning with clear mucus that develops into thicker, darker or green mucus as the cold progresses
  • blocked nose
  • sore throat
  • sneezing
  • cough

People with a cold may also suffer with a mild fever, earache, tiredness and headache. Symptoms develop over one or two days and gradually get better after a few days. The first three days of a person having a cold are contagious.

Flu usually comes on much more quickly than a cold, and symptoms are usually more severe including:

  • sudden fever of 38-40°C (100-104°F)
  • muscle aches and pains
  • head ache
  • sweating
  • feeling exhausted and needing to lie down
  • possible sore throat

Flu symptoms appear one to three days after infection and most people recover within a week, although they may feel tired for longer.

Contact Details:

Lindsay Colbeck
Senior Public Relations Officer – Non Food
The Co-operative Group
07713 267 499

Alex Wilson
Public Relations Manager – Non Food
The Co-operative Group
07540 641368