NEW YORK (PIX11) -- Is your morning commute making you sick?
February is well underway, which means we're in the middle of flu season.
Sneezing, coughing and nose blowing during the busy morning commute create the symphony that indicates it's just a matter of time before a cold -- or worse -- knocks you out. From the streets to whatever transit system you may ride, you're bound to come in contact with someone who is sick.
PIX11 News went undercover to find out how your morning commute could potentially make you sick -- and what you can do to protect yourself.
Using medical swabs provided by NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, PIX11 hit every transit system including the Long Island Railroad, Metro-North, MTA buses and subway system, the PATH train, and New Jersey Transit buses and trains.
Dr. Susan Whittier runs the microbiology unit at the hospital where our samples were tested.
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Out of the 13 samples that we took from mass transit, 11 of came back positive for potentially sickening bacteria, Whittier said. That is a whopping 85 percent of our samples.
Now, it is no surprise that there would be germs on mass transit but PIX11's investigation revealed interesting results.
The most appalling find were germs found on an MTA vending machine, which computers use to buy and fill their MetroCards.
"There are over a dozen different bacteria on this. It's just disgusting," Whittier said. "You are probably better off putting your hand in a toilet bowl than touching the screen. The bacteria we found is indicative of bacteria you would find in your stool."
Again, that may not surprise you. But that's not all regarding the machine.
"It also tested positive for influenza A, meaning the flu," Whittier said.
Flu bacteria can live on a surface for up to 24 hours. If you were to touch the machine covered in influenza then touch your eye without washing your hands, you could get the flu from that machine.
Next, PIX11 swabbed a subway pole aboard the A line and again found a ton of bacteria. This time, for the second time, traces of the flu on that pole.
The MTA told PIX11 News the subway cars are lightly cleaned once a cycle at the end of the line.
"It is impossible and frankly worthless to wipe down poles or other equipment in the system since that only lasts as long as the next person with a cold or flu enters the system," an agency spokesman said in a statement.
Next, PIX11 went above ground and hopped on an MTA bus in Washington Heights, where a cloth seat was also swabbed.
"Here we have two colonies of mold that are growing," Whittier said. " It could cause allergies, so someone with compromised lungs, it could affect them."
As for the other transit systems, they didn't get off easy. Every system PIX11 tested came back positive for bacteria.
However, Whittier said while it looks and sounds gross, most of the bacteria found really can't harm you.
"You don't have to worry about it," she said. "It's not going to cause infection or illness. It's just gross."
Germs are all around us, as are viruses, so remember to wash your hands after riding that train.