Rail

Study of subway 'bugs' aimed to improve public health

Posted on June 29, 2016

Researchers Regina Joice and Jose Vallarino swab subway ticket machines. Photo: Harvard T.H. Chan - School of Public Health
Researchers Regina Joice and Jose Vallarino swab subway ticket machines. Photo: Harvard T.H. Chan - School of Public Health

The trillions of microbes that transfer from people to surfaces could provide an early warning system for the emergence of public health threats such as a flu outbreak or a rise in antibiotic resistance, according to a study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The researchers took to the Boston subway system to find out what kinds of bugs people across the city are passing around — and how they might help preserve or disrupt our health.

The study, which was published online June 28, 2016 in the American Society for Microbiology’s journal mSystems, is the first high-precision microbial survey in a mass-transit environment to look at multiple surface types and materials.

“We were surprised to find that the microbes that we collected of 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,” said senior author Curtis Huttenhower, associate professor of computational biology and bioinformatics. “Our findings establish a baseline against which deviations can be used as an early warning system to monitor public health.”

With the support of the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, the researchers collected samples by swabbing seats, seat backs, walls, vertical and horizontal poles, and hanging grips inside train cars from three subway lines, as well as touchscreens and walls of indoor and outdoor ticketing machines at five subway stations. Detailed data were collected on the environment in which each sample was taken. The samples were then studied using metagenomic sequencing.



The researchers found that the type of surface — and how humans interact with it — was the greatest determinant of microbial community structure. Skin- and oral-associated microbes — transferred by touching and coughing or sneezing — were found on surfaces such as poles and hand grips. Vaginal microbes, which can be transferred through clothing, were found on seats. Greater amounts of non-human microbes, such as those seen in plants, were found on outdoor ticketing touchscreens. Little variation was observed between geographically distinct train lines and stations serving different demographics.

The findings are consistent with previous microbial DNA sequencing-based studies that have revealed that microbial communities in the built environment are greatly influenced by their human occupants. Further study of the separate influences of human contact, surface type, and surface material will help identify mechanisms through which microbial communities form and persist on surfaces within built environments.

“Our next steps are to find out which microbes are dead or alive and which can be transferred between people,” said first author Tiffany Hsu, a research assistant in the department of biostatistics.





View comments or post a comment on this story. (0 Comments)

More News

Amtrak CEO calls for new era of infrastructure investment

Moorman outlined projects that warrant significant investment including construction of the Portal North Bridge and new Hudson Tunnels in New Jersey.

Bill introduced requiring greater transparency about train safety audits

The measure was unveiled by two House Representatives from New Jersey, where it was found after a deadly crash in September that NJ Transit was the subject of a deep federal audit.

City to sue Sound Transit, WSDOT over light rail expansion plans

Mercer Island residents — even when driving solo — have had access to I-90's high-occupancy vehicle lanes, however later this year when construction gets underway to add light rail across the I-90 express lanes, that access will go away.

Wash. state Governor budgets $1M to study high-speed rail

The study would come at a time when transit agencies and departments of transportation around the U.S. are watching President Donald Trump for signs of what they can expect in terms of federal funding in the next four years.

UW-Madison team wins Innovation Award in Hyperloop competition

The team competed against 30 teams from colleges and universities from around the world in the second phase of SpaceX’s Hyperloop pod competition.

See More News

Post a Comment

Post Comment

Comments (0)

More From The World's Largest Fleet Publisher

Automotive Fleet

The Car and truck fleet and leasing management magazine

Business Fleet

managing 10-50 company vehicles

Fleet Financials

Executive vehicle management

Government Fleet

managing public sector vehicles & equipment

TruckingInfo.com

THE COMMERCIAL TRUCK INDUSTRY’S MOST IN-DEPTH INFORMATION SOURCE

Work Truck Magazine

The number 1 resource for vocational truck fleets

Schoolbus Fleet

Serving school transportation professionals in the U.S. and Canada

LCT Magazine

Global Resource For Limousine and Bus Transportation

Please sign in or register to .    Close