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World’s Worst Superbugs Found by Students on London Transport

By Eloise Durham
World’s Worst Superbugs Found by Students on London Transport

We dish the dirt on public transport in London

Students at London Metropolitan University teamed up with taxi and Uber insurers Staveley Head to put London under the microscope and see how dirty the capital really is. The Student Guide got a look in and has exclusive interviews with those involved.

Billions of people use London’s transport systems each year. You may think overcrowding and traffic jams are your biggest worries on London's Underground and roads, but you might change your mind after discovering what else is joining you for the ride.

In February 2017, a team from the microbiology department at London Metropolitan University spent four months collecting 80 samples from London's Tube lines, taxi cabs and buses. They took swabs from hand rails, seats, doors and walls before Dr Paul Matewele and his students took the swabs back to the laboratory to study. The results were shocking.

Nine of the world’s most threatening superbugs to human health were found on London’s public transport among 121 different bacteria and mould!

The bacteria found can have serious effects including infections, pneumonia, meningitis, abscesses, and puss-filled boils.

The list of the world’s most threatening superbugs that can be harmful to human health was published by The World Health Organization.

Sampled taxis and tube lines contained the deadly superbug, Klebsiella Pneumoniae. Dr Matewele said that ‘the Klebsiella Pneumoniae infection is a superbug that antibiotics cannot fight and can be extremely harmful'. It killed a woman in the US recently.

The London Underground was found to be the dirtiest form of public transport in London, containing 95 different types of bacteria including bacteria from rodents such as mice and rats along with traces of faecal bacteria! Victoria Line was the least clean, hosting four of the world’s most threatening bacteria.

Buses were the cleanest, with a total of 37 bacteria found, but contained the most mould, meaning users still run the risk of contracting urinary tract infections due to the discovery of E. faecalis and Proteus Vulgaris.

The Tube lines (cleanest to dirtiest):

Metropolitan line – 11 bacteria found
Bakerloo line – 13 bacteria found
Hammersmith and City – 14 bacteria found
Central line – 16 bacteria found
Waterloo and City line – 16 bacteria found
District Line – 17 bacteria found
Northern Line – 18 bacteria found
Jubilee line – 18 bacteria found
Piccadilly line – 20 bacteria found
Circle line – 20 bacteria found
Victoria line – 22 bacteria found

Muna Hamud and Lamia EL-Majdoub are both third-year students studying microbiology at London Metropolitan University. They volunteered to take part in the campaign, gathering and analysing samples.

'I took a number of swabs around 4 times a week in different weather and temperature conditions to get a true sample of what was living upon the lines, taxis and buses. The samples ranged from being taken from midnight on a cool night to early morning rush hour which was at 8:00 am to about 12:00 pm.'
'I use London’s public transport on a regular basis and was unaware of the potentially harmful microorganisms that are on them. It was shocking to see not only the number of bacteria but type too.'

'Some of the bacteria found we would only hear or learn about in extreme circumstances. However, knowing they’re being harvested on transport for London with the population there seems very shocking.'

Take a look at the ‘London Under the Microscope’ interactive and explore the bacteria under UV light here

Have you used London’s public transport in the past? How do you feel about it now?

Let us know your thoughts via social media





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