We hope you're sitting. You're going to need to brace yourself for some groundbreaking news: The New York City subway is dirty.
All right, while you might not be gasping for air just yet, stay with us. Apparently, if you're amongst the 5.5 million people who take the subway to work everyday, you're exposed to over 15,000 kinds of bacteria on your commute.
An in-depth piece by the Wall Street Journal documents the 18-month study done by researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College, in which they collected DNA samples from the turnstiles, railings, benches, ticketing stations — everything short of actual humans — of all 466 New York City subway stations.
In all, the study turned up 562 species of bacteria in the subway — the scariest of which include bubonic plague, meningitis, staph infections, and tetanus.
So are we putting our lives in the hands of the poles we cling onto for (ironically) dear life? Study leader Christopher Mason says probably not. The levels of bacteria detected pose no real public-health problem. Almost half of the DNA collected came from harmless bacteria.
The purpose of the study was not to incite fear amongst germaphobes. Rather, it was done as an effort to discover novel ways to track diseases and outbreaks.
Plus, it's pretty cool to be able to see what kind of life-forms are lurking in New York City's underworld. WSJ created this interactive graphic in which you can see what kinds of bacteria were found in each station.
Unsurprisingly, the subway stations with the most traffic — Grand Central-42 Street and Times Square-42 Street — were not only the most bacteria-ridden, but also host to the most unique types of bacteria, like those associated with mozzarella cheese and sunscreen. (As if we needed another reason to stay away from those stations anyway...)
If nothing else, the findings will make us a little more cautious on our daily commute. Maybe try not to lick the poles.