Traces Of Bubonic Plague Found On New York Subway

In an alarming discovery, researchers from Cornell University have confirmed traces of bacteria responsible for bubonic plague inside the New York Subway system. Apart from bubonic plague causing bacteria, they have also managed to find traces of Anthrax and 1,688 other types of disease-causing bacteria in several parts of the subway, reports Channel News Asia.

According to Russia Today, the researchers behind the study were part of the PathoMap project which began in June of 2013. The aim of the year-and-a-half-long project, according to senior investigator Christopher Mason, was to collect data that could be used to plan “long-term, accurate disease surveillance, bioterrorism threat mitigation, and large scale health management for New York”.

Now that you have heard of bubonic plague, let us inform you about the good news. In a press release issued by the researchers on Thursday, they have confirmed that a vast majority of the bacteria they detected in the subway system were harmless to the 1.7 billion people who travel each year on it. In fact, many bacteria found there could be useful to us humans and are known to exist in our gastrointestinal system already.

“Our data show evidence that most bacteria in these densely populated, highly-trafficked transit areas are neutral to human health, and much of it is commonly found on the skin or in the gastrointestinal tract. These bacteria may even be helpful, since they can out-compete any dangerous bacteria,” Mason adds.

Only 27 percent of samples tested were found to have traces of bacteria that could potentially harm people because of their drug-resistant resistant abilities. Only three kinds of bacteria were found with plasmid associated with bubonic plague while there were two for Anthrax-causing pathogens. These are extremely low numbers, and for the same reason, pose virtually no threat to the millions of commuters who use the subway system in New York. It should also be noted that the study also showed that samples of the bubonic plague causing bacteria were all found to be dead. No wonder, you haven’t heard of a bubonic plague case in New York for a long time.

Now that you know that there is no threat of bubonic plague in New York, we might as well let you know about another interesting fact that the researchers came across. According to the press release that detailed the results of the study, over half of the DNA sequences collected from the subway could not be identified and did not match any organism known to the National Center for Biotechnology Information or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention! What this means is that millions of New Yorkers using the subway remain exposed to undiscovered and uncharacterized organisms. In all, researchers collected 1,457 DNA samples from all 466 open stations on all 24 lines.

All said, the threat of bubonic plague, which has historically been one of the deadliest diseases known to man, still creeps its head up occasionally. Last year, there were reports of a bubonic plague outbreak in Madagascar that left at least 40 people dead.

[Image Via Wikimedia Commons]