What Microbes Do You Commute With?

It’s not unthinkable that a few germs are riding the rails of New York City’s subways. With the amount of people who climb in and out of those metal cars every day (over 5 million), you are bound to want to give your hands a good wash before touching your face. But what would you do if you knew what organisms actually lived in the New York City subway system?

Weill Cornell Medical College went around New York and took swabs. Turns out, a lot of the microbes they found were just normal, every day stuff. But there were a few surprises…

Meningitis is often associated with living in close quarters. What happens is that the protective membrane of your brain becomes inflamed. There are 5 types of the disease, some more intense than others. Bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic versions exists. Viral meningitis is the one that is known for being spread when people are close together, so given that it’s a disease found in the subway, there isn’t much surprise. If you ever lived in a college dorm, you were required to have your shot for meningitis. Symptoms can be as simple as a fever, stiff neck, and a head ache. But the death rate when the disease is left untreated is almost 90%.

Food Poisoning:

Food poisoning can be caused by a few different things. Some are Salmonella and E. coli. Which disease causing microbe was found in the subway probably doesn’t matter, because there are many that you can find in any dirty kitchen or spoiled food. But these bacteria were found in the subway.
These little buggers can be life threatening, even if they are so common. Diarrhea and vomiting, which can cause dehydration, are often caused by Campylobacter Infection.

Bubonic Plague:

Yersinia pestis– Often associated with rats, vermin, and other unsanitary situations. Yes, it’s no secret the subway system is infested with rats. And the plague is still alive and well. But not in the subway—all bubonic plague samples found in the subway were dead. So, bubonic plague is an unexpected, but not a surprising find in a populated city. It just means that the subway has a few rats in it, which as stated, we all know.


If you’re my age, you’ll remember the anthrax scare. And turns out at least two samples of anthrax were found in the subway. Anthrax is caused by bacteria, but can be weaponized. The samples found were from bacillus anthracis, the normal anthrax that is found in infected meat. If you ate it, yeah. You’d get it. But riding the subway won’t give you lesions, boils, violent vomiting, bloody diarrhea… then again, I’m no doctor.


Yup. Last, but not lease, one the biggest microbes found in the subway was cheese-making. After all, the New York slice is as famous as the Philly cheese steak. It makes sense that a few cheese microbes would latch onto the subway.


If you want to avoid a few of these sketchy microbes, you may want to consider the Penny skateboard for your urban commuting needs.