All it takes is one uncovered cough.
In an instant, that flu shot you meant to get weeks ago means nothing if you are exposed to the flu virus or any other infectious agent that lingers in public areas this time of year.
"You just don't stop and think about everything you touch," Lynn Berner said.
Berner, the infection prevention expert at St. Mary's Hospital, said flu season is just starting for the region, and everything from cash to elevator buttons is a potential contact point. People tend to be in more enclosed spaces, such as stores or movie theaters, and use public transportation in winter.
If you've been out in public today, odds are you've been exposed to at least one infectious agent.
"Every time we touch something from the grocery cart to the bar getting on the bus (think of) whoever has touched that before me; (you're) potentially coming in contact with an infectious agent," Berner said.
Paul McChancy, the mass transit administrator for Decatur, said in years past they have had to warn bus drivers about particular strains of the flu, but there haven't been any issues this year.
"We're always concerned about the public and the public's health and welfare," McChancy said.
The 20 city buses and two trolleys will carry an estimated 1,450,000 passengers throughout Decatur and up to the Forsyth mall in 2013. Over the course of a day, drivers will come in contact with hundreds of people.
"You've got a lot of drivers talking to a large number of people every day we encourage them to wash their hands," McChancy said. "(But) ....no one can avoid catching a cold if they come in contact with it."
McChancy said the city buses are swept out every night and on a schedule for deep cleaning, where they are thoroughly wiped down with an antibacterial cleaner. They provide hand sanitizer and wipes for drivers and will use bleach if the bus has been exposed to any pathogens, such as from bodily fluids.
Jerome Currie has been a bus driver with the Decatur Public Transit System for 20 years. In all that time, he said he's never had a flu shot and he's never been sick.
"I've really been lucky I guess," Currie said. As far as trying to stay healthy, he tries to keep hydrated by drinking water throughout the day. He also uses lots of hand sanitizer as he comes in contact with passengers.
Berner said the best prevention is to get a flu vaccine and remember it takes two weeks to be fully effective. After touching items in public, keep your hands away from your face. She recommends people have hand sanitizer readily available, and thoroughly wash their hands with hot water and soap whenever they get the chance.
The Macon County Show Bus provides free flu shots to drivers as one step to prevent illnesses said Director Laura Dick. They also use a strong disinfectant to clean the buses overnight because it's too strong for daytime use. She said during past flu scares surgical masks were available on the buses as recommended by the CDC.
"Beyond that, we hope for the best," Dick said.
Berner encourages people to stay home if they're ill, not only for their own health, but for others too.
"It's everywhere and there are going to be times people are going to still get sick, but there's a lot we can do to protect ourselves," she said.
Make sure to sleep enough and eat well because people in good health are less prone to catching illnesses. She said good respiratory etiquette is to sneeze or cough into a tissue or the crook of an elbow and don't be afraid of using a surgical mask to protect yourself and others from infections.
"I don't want people to be paranoid...." Berner said. "Be vigilant, be smart."
Copyright 2013 - Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill.