Higher rates of airborne infections observed in Londoners who have longer tube journeys through busier terminals, discovered Dr Lara GoscÚ from the University of Bristol's Department of Civil Engineering and Dr Anders Johansson from Bristol's Department of Engineering Mathematics.
Despite the commuter cold being a widely accepted concept, it has never been proven that public transport contributes to the spread of airborne infections. Now new research on the London underground commute has proven a link does exist.
The study, published in Environmental Health, will help to inform measures to control the spread of infectious disease.
"On the other hand, lower influenza-like rates are found in boroughs where either the population do not use public transport as the main form of transport to commute to work; or boroughs served by more underground lines, which guarantee faster trips with less stops and contacts with fewer people."
For instance, one finding highlighted that infection rates in residents of Islington, who often change lines at crowded Kings Cross St. Pancreas, were nearly three times higher than in commuters from Kensington, who mostly take direct trains.
The team hopes that their findings will inform Government epidemic policies. Dr GoscÚ said: "Policy makers, in particular, should address the role potentially played by public transport and crowded events and avoid encouraging the attendance of such environments during epidemics."
Looking to the future, the group want to draw a clearer map of the spread of cold-like infections in a metropolitan environment, and so plan to combine individual level infection data with existing studies from households and schools.
Dr GoscÚ said: "These results are preliminary following limitations of the dataset. Empirical studies. Empirical studies combining aero-biology and pedestrian modelling would be important in improving model fidelity and devising non-pharmaceutical control strategies tackling threshold densities to minimise numbers of infections and optimal ventilation in different crowded environments."