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5 Tips to Avoid Getting Sick in the City

By Contributed content 26 January 2018

Brought to you by BUPA GLOBALThe combination of unpredictable weather and bad pollution in Hong Kong has got a lot of us feeling sickly the past few days. Studies show that the growth of city living is increasing around the world and by 2030, 60 percent of people are predicted to live in urban areas, with one in every three living in a city with at least half a million inhabitants1. Being near other city dwellers puts us at greater risk of catching colds, developing coughs, or picking up viruses, but fortunately, there are measures you can take to avoid getting ill.

1. Stand Tall on Public Transport

When it comes to catching a cold on the bus or train, it really is a numbers game. Many disease-causing bacteria can spread up to four metres and remain alive in the air for up to 45 minutes following coughs and sneezes2. Short of living in a bubble, what can you do? Standing during your commute may be unpleasant, but if you must, then researchshows that there are far fewer germs on ceiling poles than on vertical poles on public transport. And once you’ve arrived at your destination, try not to touch your face if you’ve touched surfaces on the trains, buses, or escalators, as this is the easiest way for viruses to spread.

2. When Life Gives You Lemons, Just Say No

Whatever your chosen beverage – gin and tonic, iced tea, or simply sparkling water – a slice of citrus is typically offered as standard. But beware as a fruit wedge in or on your glass could be a recipe for disaster. You don’t know the history of the lemon, lime, or hands that have touched it. Plus, research4 into the rate of bacterial transfer to lemons found that lemons contaminated with E. coli and left at room temperature for 24 hours had an increased bacterial population, so you may wish to pass on your citrus garnish unless you know where it came from.

3. Wash Your Hands for Longer

Perhaps surprisingly, a June 2017 study5 of hand washing found cold water to be as effective as hot water for killing germs, although the researchers limited their study to E. coli bacteria. Also, it's a good idea to double the time you take to wash your hands to 30 seconds rather than the usual 15, as this is far more effective for protecting yourself against infections like the flu.Wherever you wash, remember that when you turned those taps on, your hands weren’t clean. To turn them off hygienically, grab a paper towel or tissue to prevent your hands from touching the dirty taps again.

4. Don’t Risk a Refill

It’s a golden rule for all urbanites to stay hydrated in the hot summer months by making sure you always have a water bottle with you. But be wise about your chosen vessel. Opting for a reusable water bottle – even one specifically designed for everyday use – is arguably a one-way ticket to sickness. A team of testers6 swabbed bottles that had been repeatedly used by an athlete over the course of a week. They found that slide and squeeze-top bottles were crawling with the most bacteria, and even said that drinking from the latter was as unhygienic as eating a meal from your pet's food bowl.In fact, 60 percent of the germs found on the bottles were associated with human illness. So if you drink straight out of the bottle and the thought of purchasing a new bottle every day seems too indulgent, then choose the straw-top option, as these were found to carry the least harmful germs. Also, opt for smooth stainless steel over plastic, and wash the bottle thoroughly after every use.

5. Don’t Sit Near the Photocopier

Struggling with asthma or breathing difficulties? Paying attention to where you sit in the office could help. Experts advise that photocopiers and laser printers create ozone gas as they work, which has been found to cause sore eyes, headaches, and respiratory irritation – and the toner used in the machines isn’t great for you either7. So if you can smell a chemical-like odour from where you’re sitting, definitely think about relocating.In short, there are actions you can take to avoid illness in crowded cities. Add to these an active office lifestyle and a good night’s sleep, and you’ll be fighting fit regardless of the unique stresses of urban living.

  1. United Nations ), last accessed in July 2017
  2. Science Daily (, last accessed in July 2017
  3. (, last accessed in July 2017
  4. Research Gate (, last accessed in July 2017
  5. Journal of Food Protection ( ), last accessed in July 2017
  6. Treadmill Reviews ( ), last accessed in July 2017
  7. Techwalla (, last accessed in October 2017 The Guardian (, last accessed in July 2017. The London Hazards Centre Factsheet (, last accessed in July 2017 - Musheer @zirosou

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DISCLAIMER: This article was designed and produced by Bupa Global by searching internal and external data and information for information provision and reference purposes only. Any views or information mentioned and set out in this article/webpage are based on general situations. Readers should not regard them as medical advices or medical recommendations. Before making any decisions about the theme of this article, you are recommended to seek independent advice from suitable professionals (such as doctors, nutritionists, etc.). It is clearly stated that Bupa Global will not bear any responsibilities for others’ usage or interpretation of the information listed in this article. When preparing and/or updating this article, Bupa Global endeavours to ensure that the content is accurate, complete and updated but will not bear any responsibilities nor make any warranty or guarantee for the accuracy, completeness and timeliness of the information or for any claims and/or losses caused thereby. 
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