Airborne antibiotic resistome and human health risk in railway stations during COVID-19 pandemic

Bai, Hong; He, Liang Ying; Gao, Fang Zhou; Wu, Dai Ling; Yao, Kai Sheng; Zhang, Min; Jia, Wei Li; He, Lu Xi; Zou, Hai Yan; Yao, Mao Sheng; Ying, Guang Guo


Antimicrobial resistance is recognized as one of the greatest public health concerns. It is becoming an increasingly threat during the COVID-19 pandemic due to increasing usage of antimicrobials, such as antibiotics and disinfectants, in healthcare facilities or public spaces. To explore the characteristics of airborne antibiotic resistome in public transport systems, we assessed distribution and health risks of airborne antibiotic resistome and microbiome in railway stations before and after the pandemic outbreak by culture-independent and culture-dependent metagenomic analysis. Results showed that the diversity of airborne antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) decreased following the pandemic, while the relative abundance of core ARGs increased. A total of 159 horizontally acquired ARGs, predominantly confering resistance to macrolides and aminoglycosides, were identified in the airborne bacteria and dust samples. Meanwhile, the abundance of horizontally acquired ARGs hosted by pathogens increased during the pandemic. A bloom of clinically important antibiotic (tigecycline and meropenem) resistant bacteria was found following the pandemic outbreak. 251 high-quality metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs) were recovered from 27 metagenomes, and 86 genera and 125 species were classified. Relative abundance of ARG-carrying MAGs, taxonomically assigned to genus of Bacillus, Pseudomonas, Acinetobacter, and Staphylococcus, was found increased during the pandemic. Bayesian source tracking estimated that human skin and anthropogenic activities were presumptive resistome sources for the public transit air. Moreover, risk assessment based on resistome and microbiome data revealed elevated airborne health risks during the pandemic.