TISSUES at the ready. A single sneeze in a busy area can end up infecting 150 people with a cold in just five minutes, new research suggests.
An analysis of the germs unleashed from a single commuter's sneeze showed that within minutes they are being passed on via escalator handrails or seats on trains and underground carriages.
At the busiest stations, one sneeze not smothered by a tissue or handkerchief will provide enough germs to infect another 150 commuters.
Dr Roger Henderson, a specialist in colds and flu, investigated how germs released by a sneeze would spread.
A single sneeze expels 100,000 droplets of germs into the air at 90mph. Individual droplets get transferred to handles, rails and other areas frequently held or touched. Up to 10 per cent of all commuters will come into contact with an area infected by that one sneeze, Dr Henderson calculated.
In the busiest areas, such as underground station escalators, this amounts to about 150 people during rush hour, he said.
Researchers asked 1,300 workers about their health and found 99 per cent of commuters suffered at least one cold last winter.
In contrast, just 58 per cent of those who work from home and 88 per cent of those who walk to work regularly caught a cold last winter. Two-thirds admitted to travelling in to work even when they were feeling ill. Regular commuters are well aware of the symptoms of others even though they are not always sympathetic, according to the survey.
It found that 20 per cent are annoyed by fellow travellers sneezing without using a tissue and 33 per cent were angry at those who cough without covering their mouths.
Men are more likely to be at fault – one in three do not carry a tissue compared with 81 per cent of women who do.
Relentless sniffing gets on the nerves of 12 per cent, though throat clearing is only an issue for 3 per cent.
But most will either walk away or grin and bear it. Only 8 per cent will actually say anything to an annoying sneezer or cougher sitting next to them.
Hanna Nowak of the cold cure company which commissioned the research said: "We can't totally avoid germs, but we can do a lot to stop them spreading, especially when you're on a crowded commuter train.
"Think of others before you sneeze without a tissue, otherwise in just five minutes you may have infected other commuters and won't be the only one feeling poorly."
The company also recommends having a laugh on the way to work as the immune system works better if a person is happy.
Sneezes are an automatic reflex that cannot be stopped once sneezing starts.
The sneezing record is held by Donna Griffiths from Worcestershire, who sneezed for 978 days.