As someone who rides BART to work when I don’t bike, this is a disturbing finding: On BART Trains, the Seats Are Taken (by Bacteria):
The Bay Citizen commissioned Darleen Franklin, a supervisor at San Francisco State University’s biology lab, to analyze the bacterial content of a random BART seat. The results may make you want to stand during your trip.
Fecal and skin-borne bacteria resistant to antibiotics were found in a seat on a train headed from Daly City to Dublin/Pleasanton. Further testing on the skin-borne bacteria showed characteristics of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, the drug-resistant bacterium that causes potentially lethal infections, although Ms. Franklin cautioned that the MRSA findings were preliminary.
High concentrations of at least nine bacteria strains and several types of mold were found on the seat. Even after Ms. Franklin cleaned the cushion with an alcohol wipe, potentially harmful bacteria were found growing in the fabric.
Dr. John Swartzberg, a clinical professor at the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, played down the threat of infection from harmful bacteria on a BART seat. “I suspect it’s not a very big problem,” Dr. Swartzberg said. “That said, if there’s another way to do it, where you can clean it better, then you should do it.”
He said the cloth seats most likely allowed bacteria to flourish because they were more difficult to clean and disinfect.
I’m not generally too worried about measurements of bacteria or mold on outdoor surfaces, because most aren’t pathogenic, and your body can generally fight off the ones that are, if you aren’t immuno-compromised. There’s some reason to think that your immune system benefits from the chance to regularly fight back against small-scale contact with bacteria.
But MRSA is different. This strain of Staphylococcus aureus is resistant to the dominant antibiotics used against staph infections. It kills thousands, and can tremendously difficult to treat even in otherwise healthy people.
The story notes that BART is looking at new seats, and frankly they can’t switch to non-upholstered surfaces soon enough. Who knows what combinations of urine, phlegm, and other grossness have been absorbed into the current cloth covers.