Back in February, a group of scientists released an exhaustive study on germs on the subway, reporting that traces of everything from E. Coli to Staphylococcus aureus to THE BUBONIC PLAGUE had made homes on those poles we all touch every day. The results were gross, if not surprising—but now, both the NYC Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say some of the findings were inaccurate.
The study, conducted during the summer in 2013 and released this past February, was helmed by Weill Cornell Medical College scientist Dr. Chris Mason—he and his team swabbed all 466 subway stations in the city as part of their PathoMap Project [pdf], and found 15,152 different types of DNA. Those included traces of Yersinia pestis, which is associated with the bubonic plague, and Bacillus anthracis, or ANTHRAX. But according to both the Health Department and the CDC, neither of those live on the F train, calling the study "speculative, sensationalist, and headline-grabbing." (They make that sound like a bad thing...)
So, Mason's added an addendum the study: "There is no strong evidence to suggest these organisms are in fact present, and no evidence of pathogenicity," he wrote, adding in a statement to the Wall Street Journal, "There is definitively not a single shred of genetic evidence that these organisms would actually get you sick."
It's worth noting that when the study was initially released, Mason and his crew cautioned that the findings didn't mean New Yorkers were in danger of getting wheeled to morgues on Elizabethan death carts. "[T]here has not been a single reported case of Y. pestis in New York City since our collections began, indicating that these low-level pathogens, if truly present, are not likely active and causing disease in people," the study noted. But still, Mason clarified that the findings were the result of "a problem of interpretation.”
Either way, you can still lick all the subway poles, if you dare.