For years we’ve been warned that the cash we pass to each other could spread germs. Bacteria, viruses, fungi and even toxic chemicals, such as BPA, can be found on our money.
This week, scientists from the University of Hong Kong, wanted to see how bacteria colonizing money compared to bacteria in the air, drinking water, and people’s hands.
They collected fifteen $20 bills from 12 hospitals and 3 subways stations and swabbed the money for bacteria. What grew in culture was the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes, which is seen in acne and some eye infections. They also found Acinebacter which can cause infection in those with weakened immune systems.
Additionally they found E.coli and Clostridium difficile, responsible for a many serious infections.
And the money carried more bacteria than the subway air, drinking water and hands of workers.
What was also surprising was that the money from hospitals seemed to carry just as many pathogens as that from the subway, implying outside germs can easily enter a “clean building” Trojan horsing through money.
The researchers cited many of these bacteria carried antibiotic resistant genes.
In 2014 a study performed by researchers at the New York University’s Center for Genomics and Systems Biology found over 3000 bacteria to be colonizing american money including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
Paper money is not made of paper, but rather a fabric of cotton and linen that has crypts and nooks that allow bacteria to set up shop and colonize. Coins offer a surface that can stay moist from people’s sweat, thereby allowing an opportunity for pathogens to easily transfer from one’s fingers to a non living object.
Now the risk of becoming ill from someone handing you money is still rare, but the potential that exists is what’s worrisome as bugs become stronger and more resistant to medications.
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Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, iHeart Radio and Board Certified Family Physician