London Crawling with Drug-Resistant Microbes


If you're a germaphobe navigating the city, there are certain mandatory rules of engagement. Use a paper towel to shield your hand as you touch the bathroom door handle. Lift toilet seat covers with your shoe. Touch buttons at ATMs and crosswalks and elevators with a knuckle or the back of your hand… never a fingertip. I know this, because I am that person. 

And a new study in the journal Scientific Reports somewhat justifies my behavior. Because when researchers in London sampled all those kinds of surfaces, in public shopping centers, train stations, and common areas in hospitals—they found a whole lot of antibiotic-resistant bacteria lurking there. [Rory Cave et al, Whole genome sequencing revealed new molecular characteristics in multidrug resistant staphylococci recovered from high frequency touched surfaces in London]

The scientists swabbed sites all over London, and ended up with 600 samples of Staphylococcus bacteria. Of those, nearly half were resistant to two or more commonly used antibiotics, like penicillin and erythromycin. The hospital samples had significantly more drug-resistant microbes - which makes sense, because hospitals are a place antibiotics are used a lot. 

If there's a silver lining here—it might be how few Staph bacteria in public places were multidrug resistant… a mere 47 percent. Because a few years back one of the same scientists swabbed London hotel rooms - and found that 86 percent of the Staph bacteria were multidrug resistant there. Which… may not help you sleep easy.

—Christopher Intagliata 

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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