Skip to content
CityLab
Culture

Pretty Much All of Your Weird Germ-Avoidance Behaviors Are Pointless

Kicking toilet handles to flush, holding your breath after someone sneezes—scientists explain how we're doing it all wrong.
relates to Pretty Much All of Your Weird Germ-Avoidance Behaviors Are Pointless
PathDoc/Shutterstock.com

Perhaps you were as grossed out as we were by that recent Weill Cornell Medical College study that showed New York City's subway system to be teeming with bacteria. Over an 18-month period, geneticist Christopher Mason and his team collected DNA from handrails, kiosks, seats, and turnstiles across the MTA to reveal a lush, invisible ecosystem containing more than 15,000 different kinds of microbial life. Ick, right?

Thankfully, the study also showed that the vast majority of bacteria found in the subway were harmless or even beneficial to humans. These “good” bacteria might come from food, remove toxins from the environment, or outcompete disease-causing pathogens lurking on surfaces. “That means more [bacterial] diversity, by the odds, would be a good thing,” Mason says.