VTA spokesmodel says LRT clean compared to most other transit
- Published Monday, February 26, 2007, by the SJSU Spartan Daily
Light rail commuters fend off germs
By Carla Mancebo
"Bless you," someone called out to an elderly sick man as the light
rail reached its stop at Paseo de San Antonio.
A dozen students disembarked, unaware they may have gotten off with
a little more than their iPods and books.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu
season peaks in February and may spread until May. Reported
influenza cases have risen by 12 percent in California this month.
The CDC recommends avoiding close contact with people who are sick,
but some don't have the choice.
"I have had the flu twice this year, so riding the light rail is a
nightmare," said Jamie Freitas, a senior majoring in history and a
light rail commuter. "It's my obsessive compulsive disorder, I try
and ignore the coughing and hacking but I can't, so I cringe the
whole way to campus."
Bacterial and viral infections are most commonly caught through
the air we breathe, said John Boothby, a professor of biological
sciences at San Jose State University.
Boothby said sneezes and coughs produce particles that once
evaporated will turn into a dried residue called, droplet nuclei.
This residue, which can last in the air for hours, may then transfer
infection through the respiratory tract.
"When I'm on an airplane and I hear somebody sneezing in the back
of the plane I know within hours I'm going to be breathing whatever
that person had," Boothby said.
In the past year, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority has
seen an increase in commuters, said VTA Communications Manager,
She said that on an average weekday roughly 33,000 people use the
The influx in riders will force cramped conditions, which Dr. Kamila
Shekhar said is a perfect place to catch illnesses.
"Avoiding infectious viruses is difficult," said Shekhar, a physician
at Kaiser Permanente. "Humans are breeding grounds for germs.
Unfortunately, stopping the spread is not so easy -- especially in
poorly ventilated and crowded places."
Kunz said the VTA is concerned for the health of the riders and that
the trains are cleaned once in the evening for garbage and visible
"I don't think they boil the train," Kunz said. "But the trains
are very clean in comparison to other public transportation in the
But Boothby said the transmission of infections through surfaces
is possible but not as prevalent as transmission through aerosols.
Living in a microbe-infested world can be unbearable for some people
but they learn to adapt.
"I'm a freak about germs, some people call me a germ-a-phobe," said
German Toledo, a radio, television and film major. "If someone is
coughing near me I ask them to cough into their sleeve or I, simply,