New York City is particularly dirty and some of the most shared surfaces of this big city are automated teller machines. Scientists at New York University tested these for microbes as research for a study. The study, published in the journal mSphere and conducted between June and July 2014, took swabs of keypads from 66 ATM machines from Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn, ranging from midtown to Flushing to Inwood to Ozone Park in the US.
Specifically, the most common identified sources of microbes on the keypads were from household surfaces such as televisions, restrooms, kitchens and pillows, as well as from bony fish, mollusks and chicken.
"ATM surfaces, potentially retaining microbial signatures of human inhabitants ... are interesting from both a biodiversity perspective and a public health perspective," lead author NYU project scientist Holly M. Bik and her colleagues wrote. They focused on neighborhoods with distinct population demographics, swabbing around for patterns. The goal was to add to the body of work on the "urban microbiome."
It's a big project in New York, given that, as the authors report, the urban surfaces of Manhattan have a greater surface area than the geographic breadth of the island itself.
On one ATM near Brighton Beach, they detected Toxoplasma, the culprit in the infectious disease Toxoplasmosis, that doesn't usually show symptoms but feels like a flu if you have a weakened immune system or are a baby. But, as John Metcalfe reports at CityLab, other findings were even less savory, like protists associated with your intestinal tract, a bug related to the sexually transmitted infection trichomoniasis, "Don't panic just yet," Metcalfe cautions. "The research didn't determine how many of these microbes were still active when collected, and it's possible that many were in such small amounts that they wouldn't be harmful," he says.
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However, no significant difference was found in the keypads from ATMs located outdoors versus indoors, the researchers noted. Well, till the time researchers are doing their work and digging out more reasons to stay from these bacteria, you might like to keep some hand sanitizer handy.