27. 06. 14

Bacteria and your wallet

Have you ever wondered how many bacteria - and how many different types- there are on the notes and coins you keep in your purse or wallet?

In spite of the increase in the use of credit cards, we still continue to handle cash. Notes and coins are one of the most germ-ridden items we come into contact with every day. It is estimated that around 26,000 health-damaging bacteria can be found on notes and coins.

In the USA, studies conducted on bank notes have identified bacteria, viruses, fungi, and plant pathogens. Bacteria were found on 87% of the notes examine although the majority of them do not pose a health risk. These bacteria are present in our everyday environment, even on human skin, passing easily from person to person, but not posing a significant health risk. Nevertheless, on 7% of the notes pathogenic agents were found, such as Staphylococcus aureus, Escherischia coli, Helicobacter pylori and Corynebactrium diptheriae

These microorganisms can enter our body systems during moments of carelessness: a cut or simply through lack of hygiene. They can cause a skin infection or acne at best, to pneumonia,  gastric ulcers and food poisoning at worst. Some of the genes found are responsible for resistance to antibiotics, such as Staphylococcus aureus. The bacteria Staphylococcus epidermidis can cause infections in many different parts of the body. Bacillus cereus causes food poisoning similar to staphylococcus, in addition to bacteremia in immuno-compromised patients. Bacillus anthracis produces anthrax in people and animals. Streptococcus is responsible for various illnesses, such as meningitis, bacterial pneumonia or pharyngitis.

While similar types of bacteria are present on coins, on notes the microorganisms accumulate as they are passed from person to person. The microbes of a sick person can pass on to others via bank notes, and their circulation is not limited to a particular region since, to all intents and purposes, they have no frontiers.

It is impossible that our hands do not come into contact with notes and coins and, consequently, with all the different types of bacteria on them. Nevertheless, washing ones hands before eating, touching parts of the skin or holding a baby can prevent infections from these bacteria.  According to the findings of a report based on a survey of a representative sample of 9,000 consumers from 12 countries, Europeans were found to be more prone to washing their hands after doing other activities such as stroking a pet (46%) or travelling on public transport (36%). Approximately, 69% of Europeans know that notes and coin contain germs, but only 17% always wash their hands after handling them. 

Jane Carlton, head of the Project to sequence the genome said, "we actually found that microbes grow on money”. In addition to notes having special inks, designed so that they are light, and magnetic strips to identify them, they also possess a certain capability to absorb the greasy and residual substances which accumulate on hands- the ideal habitat for the build-up of bacteria. Central banks around the world are generally more concerned with fighting counterfeiters and making notes and coins durable than with aspects of microbiology. Nevertheless, in several countries, Canada, Thailand and Bhutan among them, notes are printed on sheets of flexible, plastic polymer. Bacteria levels are normally lower using this material than on notes printed using a cotton or paper base. 

In conclusion, it is extremely important to follow responsible, hygienic behavior, and keep bacteria at bay by washing ones hands regularly with soap and water.

Paper Currency as Fomite for Bacteria with Human Pathogenic Potential, Carlos Alberto Betancur, Santiago Estrada, María Teresa Ceballos, Elisa Sánchez, Ana María Abad, Claudia Vanegas, Lina María Salazar


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