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How Dangerous Are Bacteria on Frequently Touched London Surfaces?

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An assessment of multidrug-resistant bacteria levels in samples collected from the surfaces of general public areas ― such as London Underground stations and shopping centres ― and public areas in hospitals across London is reported in Scientific Reports.

Hermine Mkrchytan and colleagues swabbed commonly touched surfaces in East and West London to compare levels of antibiotic-resistant staphylococci, a group of bacteria known to cause infections in humans. Samples were collected from surfaces such as door handles, armrests and toilet seats in public areas, and areas in two hospitals accessible to members of the public, such as receptions, public washrooms, corridors and lifts. From the samples recovered, the authors identified a total of 600 individual staphylococci isolates. Of these, 281 (46.83%) showed resistance to two or more antibiotics, most commonly to the antibiotic penicillin (80.42%), followed by fusidic acid (72.4%) and erythromycin (54.45%).

A higher proportion of multidrug-resistant bacteria was found in public areas within hospitals (49.5%) compared to non-hospital public settings (40.66%), and in samples collected from East London (56.7%) compared to West London (49.96%). The authors say these findings could be reflective of increased antibiotic use within hospitals and greater population density in East London. A diverse set of genes conferring resistance to antibiotics was found within the samples, some of which had not been identified previously. Further analyses could help to establish where the antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in these areas first originated.


Whole genome sequencing revealed new molecular characteristics in multidrug resistant staphylococci recovered from high frequency touched surfaces in London. Hermine Mkrtchyan et al. Scientific Reports, volume 9, Article number: 9637 (2019), DOI 10.1038/s41598-019-45886-6.

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