Boston’s Red Line — Rebecca Siegel
❝ The subway is crowded–and not just with people. Sharing your commute are trillions of invisible microbes. They’re on the seats, poles, ticket kiosks; pretty much on anything people hold, lean against, sneeze on, swipe, or bump into. “We’re constantly shedding bugs into our environment,” says Curtis Huttenhower, an associate professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health.
Huttenhower is the senior author of a study…that reveals the character of the microbial community that shares the Boston transit system…
❝ …Huttenhower and his team weren’t simply out to catalogue nasty microbes and cause a stir. They wanted to get an overall profile of the microbes in the subway environment, and gain a better understanding of the interactions between humans, microbes, and the space we share. “We really set out to understand how a transit environment — where thousands and thousands of people constantly interact — contributes to the harmless transmission of microbes between people. Does that environment serve as a sort of reservoir or exchange for microbial communities?”
❝ The researchers swabbed a variety of locations — seats, hand rails, hanging grips, walls, seats, and touch screens at ticket booths — on three different subway lines and five subway stations in Boston. Using metagenomic sequencing, the team was able to profile the microbes. What they found was a familiar cast of characters…Huttenhower says, “These are the bugs we would have on our bodies anyhow.”
They also discovered who was living where. Skin microbes were the most prevalent overall, found on all of the surfaces examined. But oral associated bugs, which are transferred by touching, coughing, or sneezing, were prevalent on face-level surfaces like hand grips and poles. And seats revealed genital-related microbes, which can be transferred through clothing. The team found little variation based on location of the train lines or the demographics they served.
❝ As for those nasty bugs other studies trumpeted, Huttenhower said in a statement, “We were surprised to find that the microbes that we collected on surfaces that people touch — and sometimes sneeze on — had low numbers of worrisome pathogens or antibiotic resistance genes. These environments have drastically lower virulence profiles, in fact, than are observed in a typical human gut.”
It’s been decades since I left the Boston area. Dunno if life has become cleaner or less clean. BITD I found public transport – especially the rail lines – to be comparatively clean. Is that a Boston thing? Are public health standards uniform nationwide?