In less than a month, the Kraków-Małopolska European Games, the biggest sporting event in the country's history, will begin. From 21 June to 2 July, the best athletes from 48 European countries will compete for medals in 29 disciplines. According to scientists from the Jagiellonian University Małopolska Centre of Biotechnology, this is an excellent opportunity to study the impact of organising such a large event and the arrival of a large number of athletes, coaches, activists and fans on the general health of Kraków's residents.
Urbanisation is, on the one hand, many benefits, but also a threat to health and quality of life. Air pollution and changes in living conditions contribute to diseases of affluence, including disorders of the immune system. Higher population density and limited green space in urban areas increase the risk of the occurrence and transmission of infectious diseases. The risk of contracting human- and animal-borne viruses and bacteria is increasing, as is the emergence of drug-resistant strains. In order to effectively manage the risks, researchers at the Jagiellonian University's Małopolska Centre of Biotechnology will investigate the impact of a short-term but significant migration during the 2023 European Games on the urban microbiome in Kraków, with a focus on novel and exotic viruses, bacteria and fungi, as well as clusters of variants resistant to available drugs. This research aims to identify risks and develop plans for creating a safe macro-environment for the city, as well as taking proactive measures to minimise the impact of these risks.
Researchers will develop a list of indicators and possible health risks that arise when hosting large events and the associated population flow. In perspective, this will help to develop methods to identify epidemiological risks and complete the encyclopaedia of microorganisms found in the urban environment. Examples include the emergence of extremely dangerous pathogens such as Marburg virus, moderately dangerous pathogens such as measles virus, and drug resistance clusters in bacteria.
The project is organised by Dr hab. Paweł Łabaj from the Bioinformatics Research Group and Prof. Krzysztof Pyrć from the Virogenetics group, working at the Małopolska Centre of Biotechnology at the Jagiellonian University in collaboration with the City of Kraków and the European Games 2023 company. Partners in the project also include Municipal Public Transport Office in Kraków (MPK), the Public Transport Authority of Kraków and the John Paul II Kraków-Balice International Airport.
The sports venues selected for the study are Tauron Arena, the Henryk Reyman Municipal Stadium and the Suche Stawy Sports Hall. In addition, genetic material collected in the vicinity of tourist traffic will be analysed - from tram stops of tram lines transporting fans to sports events and points within the Main Market Square (e.g. the Cloth Hall, the Krzysztofory Palace, the Underground Market, ATMs in the vicinity of the Market Square) and Kraków Airport.
Samples for the study, in the form of surface swabs and airborne dust condensate, will be collected four times - before the start (7 June), during the duration (21, 25, 30 June), one month after the end (31 July) and three months after the European Games (1 September). Samples collected before the Games will allow the determination of so-called 'background' levels, i.e. reference values of the microbiome before the competition. Similarly - samples collected after will make it possible to determine whether the urban microbiome is returning to its original picture.
The results of the study will be used to create a portal that will focus on pathogen trends and antibiotic resistance. This tool will help with preventive measures, such as better monitoring of the city for mass events, and will offer suggestions on the sensitivity of pathogens to available drugs. The project is part of a global initiative to develop an early warning system, which was recently discussed at the UN.
The implementation of the project will clearly underline Kraków's aspirations to become an innovative city of the future and will contribute to the promotion of the city not only in the sporting arena, but also in the international scientific arena and in terms of quality of life alongside cities such as New York, London and Tokyo.
The study is conducted as an independent part of the broader initiative 'Global City Sampling Day' organised by the MetaSUB Consortium [metasub.org], and coordinated in Kraków since 2020 by MCB UJ's Dr hab. Łabaj. In cooperation with the Department of Entrepreneurship and Innovation of the Kraków City Hall and ZTP and MPK, scientists from the Małopolska Centre of Biotechnology at the Jagiellonian University, together with volunteers, take swabs from surfaces in public transport such as ticket machines, seats, handrails, etc. every year on 21 June. The research is ongoing and will result in the development of a microbiome 'fingerprint' of Kraków. Also, in collaboration with the Kraków City Hall, during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the presence of the virus in urban spaces was determined as part of the MetaCOV project of the MetaSUB consortium, as well as in-house research by Prof. Pyrć's group at MCB UJ.