A team of researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College just released a new report about the hundreds of bacteria that live in New York’s metro stations. You thought it was just you and some 8 million other commuters? Think again! Some serious bacteria are also taking the same train.
While all of the 637 microbes are deeply disgusting (touching stuff in public places, yuck!), some of them are also dangerous. Out of more than 450 subway stations they have tested, the team of researchers from the medical school has found that these places host a lot of species of antibiotic-resistant bugs, and also DNA associated with anthrax or the Bubonic plague.
However, chief investigator Dr. Christopher E. Mason, professor of physiology and biophysics says there’s no need to start wearing a hazmat suit for your commuting, or skip the subway altogether. Even though they exist in such large numbers, the bacteria are either passive or even useful to you, as they surpass the more harmful bacteria. Ninety percent of the things you touch in the subway don’t affect your health, and even the 10 percent does not exist in such large quantities that would cause any disease.
Dr. Mason explained that the presence of pathogenic bacteria does not pose a threat, as there was no evidence the microbes were active ore alive. The collection of the 1,500 samples started in the summer of 2013, and only 27 percent of the samples came back positive for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
However, inactive bacteria should not stop you from using hand sanitizer after touching things in public places, and from carrying one with you at all times. So many places like subway seats, turnstiles, poles and benches are covered in traces of fecal matter or other disgusting fungus.
And with the recent outbreaks of Ebola and measles, the researchers tested the samples for these viruses, too. You needn’t worry, because the scientists rendered those viruses almost inexistent. Only .032 percent of the samples collected had tested positive. However, they were cautious to explain that some viruses might have escaped their microscopic tests, due to the fact that seasonal viruses, for example, have various molecular compositions.
One of the factors that helped spreading dangerous substances in the subway stations is recent natural disasters. For example, Manhattan’s South Ferry station has tested positive for 10 bacteria caused by the floodwaters of Superstorm Sandy, bacteria which usually exists only in aquatic environments. Dr. Mason and his team is still looking for answers to important questions, such as “how long will the effects of such disasters be present in the city?” or “will these bacteria pose new threats out of their original environment?” This shows just how little we know about their unpredictable behavior, even though we come in contact with germs every day.
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