Just when you thought it was, like, safe to lick the subway pole or something (oh, wait; why would you do that?), a new map released by the Wall Street Journal reveals that, uh, you might just want to put your tongue away for now. Why? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because each and every subway station in New York City is crawling with an assortment of bacteria ranging from those related to urinary tract infection to ones which can cause food poisoning? Yeah, maybe best not to taste test the subway pole after all!
The Journal reports that New York scientists undertook an 18-month-long project swabbing turnstiles and subway poles in order to better understand the types of bacteria and conditions they thrive under in the subway system. This data will undoubtedly prove very useful to the general public health of the city, in no small part due to the fact that microbiology can help scientists “discover new ways to track disease outbreaks—including contagious diseases like Ebola or measles—detect bioterrorism attacks and combat the growing antibiotic resistance among microbes, which causes about 1.7 million hospital infections every year.”
And despite the fact that scientists found everything from the bacteria which causes bubonic plague to a type which had previously only been discovered in Antarctica, it turns out that subway stations actually have less biodiversity than the soil in Central Park does. (Though the subway station with the most biodiversity—95 types of identified bacteria—was found in Brooklyn at the Myrtle-Willoughby G stop. Awesome!) In other words, you’re in no more danger of contracting some weird bacterial disease underground than you are aboveground.
So if you find out, like I did, that your local subway station contains 55 distinct bacteria, including those related to heart-valve infections, meningitis, toxic clean up, and ITALIAN CHEESE, you know, don’t worry! You’ll be just fine. You just need to bear in mind that “microbes in and on the body outnumber human cells about 10 to one,” and so, as one scientist told the Journal: “You are a minority party in the democracy of the body.”
You can check out what bacteria are most prevalent in your subway station here. Or, you know, don’t. After all, ignorance can be bliss. Especially when it comes to finding out whether or not you’re walking into a cloud of other people’s urinary tract infection bacteria on your daily commute.
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