*‘Banknotes are perfect breeding ground for potentially deadly bacteria’
The banknotes in your pocket are covered in potentially deadly bacteria that could be making you ill, according to new research. Scientists have discovered notes are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, of which more than one third can cause life-threatening infections.
Many banknotes are even home to deadly strains of Escherichia coli, the superbug that causes severe food poisoning, the study found. Cash even harbours more bacteria than people’s hands and metro station air, the research adds.
The researchers believe banknotes act as a ‘medium’ that absorbs bacteria from other environments. Researchers from the University of Hong Kong scraped banknotes found in hospitals and train stations to see if bacteria could survive on the surface.
Results, published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, revealed the notes have a much higher concentration of bacteria than people’s hands, metro station air, drinking water and marine sediment.
More than one third of the bacteria identified consisted of potentially dangerous species, such Escherichia coli and the strain responsible for cholera. Lead researcher Dr. Jun Li, said: “In short, banknotes act as a medium ‘absorbing’ bacteria from other environments and the potential pathogens live quite well on the banknote surface.”
The researchers also found the banknotes had a significantly higher concentration of antibiotic-resistance genes. Li said: “The high amount of antibiotic-resistance genes found from the banknotes is considerable and can potentially lead to the circulation of antibiotic resistance to humans and other environment.”
The potential of banknotes to spread antibiotic resistance means that they should be considered a major health risk, he added. Li said: ‘The most important results are that banknotes harbour various bacteria that originate from different environments including human hands, dirt and water due to its frequent contact with human hands and the environment.
“We also found that banknotes contain much higher amounts of antibiotic-resistance genes and potential pathogens than other environmental samples, like water and marine sediment.”
Li hopes the findings will encourage a greater awareness of the potential risks of handling currency. He said: “The most important recommendation we could raise is that before a cashless society develops, the banks and government should pay extra attention to the hygiene problem of the currency, which is still frequently used in our daily life.
“We recommend some routine disinfection of the currency from the bank, some public service ads reminding people to pay attention to wash the hands after touching currencies and the promotion of more electronic payment service, like mobile payment. We particularly would like to see the politicians and policymakers inspired by this study.”