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‘Bugs’ on the Subway: Monitoring microbes to improve public health


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Flu and the Transit System

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 our Director, John D. Spengler and colleagues at 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.

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“Urban transit system microbial communities differ by surface type and interaction with humans and environment,” Tiffany Hsu, Regina Joice, Jose Vallarino, Galeb Abu, Erica M. Hartmann, Afrah Shafquat, Casey DuLong, Catherine Baranowski, Dirk Gevers, Jessica L. Green, Xochitl C. Morgan, John D. Spengler, Curtis Huttenhower, mSystems, online June 28, 2016, doi: 10.1128/mSystems.00018-16

Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH

Aaron Bernstein is the Interim Director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.

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