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Dirty London - public transport under the microscope

Published 11th July, 2017 by Neil Nixon

Dirty London - public transport under the microscope

Taxi insurer, Staveley Head, has partnered with London Metropolitan University to put London under the microscope. 121 different types of bacteria and mould were found on public transport in London, including nine bacteria species associated with antibiotic resistant superbugs. This follows news that seats on seven of the 11 Tube lines are never cleaned.

The Metro conducted a freedom of information request in February, looking into how often the London Underground is cleaned. The data revealed that, although each tube carriage gets cleaned every night, the seats on the District, Jubilee, Northern, Circle, Piccadilly, Metropolitan, and Hammersmith and City lines are never shampooed. The seats on the Bakerloo, Victoria and Central lines are washed once every six months to a year.

Following the news that the London Underground is rarely deep cleaned, taxi insurer Staveley Head put London public transport, including buses, Tubes and taxis, under the microscope to discover how dirty it really is. The microbiology department at The London Metropolitan University supported the study, taking a total of 80 swabs across the capital. They tested hand rails, seats and walls and took their findings back to the lab to study the results.

The results

Although public transport is known to be somewhat unhygienic, the study revealed that elements of London transport is dirty and plays host to a hotbed of bacteria. The World Health Organisation drew up a list of the drug-resistant bacteria that pose the biggest threat to human health. Bacteria species associated with nine of them were found to be living upon London’s public transport. The London Underground was found to be the dirtiest form of transport, with a wide range of bacteria festering within the Tube lines.

The Victoria Line, the dirtiest underground line, was home to 22 different types of living bacteria including four of the world’s most threatening. Staphylococcus Aureus was found, along with E.coli and Klebsiella Pneumoniae.

The Tube lines (cleanest to dirtiest):

• Metropolitan - 11 bacteria found.

• Bakerloo - 13 bacteria found.

• Hammersmith and City - 14 bacteria found.

• Central - 16 bacteria found.

• Waterloo and City - 16 bacteria found.

• District - 17 bacteria found.

• Northern - 18 bacteria found.

• Jubilee - 18 bacteria found.

• Piccadilly - 20 bacteria found.

• Circle - 20 bacteria found.

• Victoria - 22 bacteria found.

Dr Paul Matewele, senior lecturer at London Metropolitan University, said: “Not only did we find life threatening bacteria, but other forms of mould and bacteria that can be harmful to human health were discovered as part of this research. Staphylococcus was a popular bacterium found upon all forms of transport. Staph bacteria live upon the skin and can cause skin problems. Puss-filled boils can generate from contact with Staph bacteria, but more serious infections in the blood, lungs and heart can also be developed. Bacteria from rodents like rats and mice were also found upon Tube lines, along with bacteria found in faeces and bacteria from sewage. These can cause water infections or skin infections like abscesses if you come into contact with them.”

Taxis were found to be no cleaner than the Tube lines - cabs hosted 14 living bacteria, on average. Alongside Staphylococcus Aureus, Aeromonas Veronii, which can cause pneumonia and meningitis, was found living inside private hire taxis. Traces of faecal bacteria and salmonella were also detected.

According to the study, buses host the least bacteria (an average of eight) but the most mold, including Alternaria, Fusarium and Penicillium. Those who use buses in London are in danger of contracting urinary tract infections due to E. faecalis and Proteus Vulgaris.

Ashley Peters, managing director at Staveley Head, said: “As insurers of taxi and Uber cabs in London, we were interested to see the results of the tests. We’ve always felt that it makes good business sense for drivers to regularly clean both the inside and outside of their vehicles - not least because it can have a big impact on Uber driver ratings - but it’s now also clear that there is a huge benefit in helping to prevent bacteria developing and stopping it from spreading. We’d also obviously recommend that passengers riding the Tube lines and buses practice good hygiene and regularly use hand sanitizer.”

Astounded by the plethora of bacteria festering on the capital’s public transport, Staveley Head have launched an interactive asset where you can explore each form of transport under UV and see the bacteria discovered. Explore the ‘London Under the Microscope’ campaign to find out more.

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