A new study from Australia is only the latest in a string of reports showing how dirty the money we carry really is. Melbourne’s Public Defender office checked out cash and credit cards in ten wallets. According to expert Peter Guerin, director of Bio-Clean, contamination on one $10 note was 6.4 times higher than readings from public lavatories.
The results were no better in a test carried out by the Wright Patterson Medical Center of Dayton, Ohio. Researchers approached students at a school concession stand and shoppers at a grocery store. Exchanging old dollars for brand new bills, they tested the dollars. Only four of 68 were relatively clean. The others contained bacteria that can infect healthy people and cause infections in those with compromised immune systems, such as cancer patients.
A 2010 survey that looked at 1,280 banknotes in ten different countries, including Nigeria, Australia and the U.S., found the most bacteria on notes from low-income countries. Cotton-based notes tended to carry more contamination than polymer-based currencies.
A 2009 study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology reported that human influenza viruses could survive on money for 17 days. Fortunately, the viruses have only five minutes to do their work once they are transferred to fingers.
The take-home message from all of the studies is: more research is needed. We know we carry bacteria along with our money, but we don’t know if it can actually make us sick. So the best advice is simply to wash our hands between handling the contents of our wallets and putting our fingers in our mouths.
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