Everyone carries dirty money. That may sound like a broad generalization, but it’s true… at least, biologically speaking.
The currency notes that currently reside in your wallet, if they haven’t been freshly withdrawn from an ATM machine, have likely traveled through dozens or even hundreds of hands. In fact, they may have traveled the entire world by now. Also, not everyone likes to put cash in their wallets; some people put it in their pockets with other contaminated items, and some even take cash straight out of their innerwear! It should come as no surprise that cash is a major carrier of germs and microorganisms.
However, the real question is: how harmful can handling such germ-ridden currency notes be?
The ‘Dirty Money’ Studies
To study the amount of germs transferred through banknotes and the subsequent impact on humans, numerous studies have been carried out in different parts of the world. Let’s look at a few of them:
Researchers at New York University’s Dirty Money Project performed a study on the DNA found on dollar bills and observed that currency is a medium of transfer for hundreds of varieties of germs from one owner to another. ‘Currency may be one way antibiotic-resistant genes move around cities,’ says Jane Carlton, the lead biologist of NYU’s Dirty Money project.
Over the course of this study, scientists examined one-dollar bills and identified 3000 different types of bacteria. Moreover, they were only able to pinpoint one-fifth of the non-human DNA found on the notes, as there are still plenty of microorganisms that we don’t know about, so they haven’t been catalogued in our data banks.
It was observed that the most commonly found microorganisms on currency notes are those that cause acne (Staphylococcus aureus). Quite predictably, various oral microbes were also found on notes, as many people tend to lick their fingers while counting notes. Some of the most common microorganisms found in abundance on currency notes include Bacillus cereus (associated with foodborne ailments), Heliobacter pylori (gastric ulcers), Cornyebacterium diptheriae (causes diptheria) and Escherichia coli (associated with food poisoning).
Another study was conducted at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in Delhi (India) by a group of scientists that studied rupee notes of various denominations. The notes were collected from grocery stores, medical stores and street vendors, and similar observations regarding the germ-carrying properties of notes were reported.
In these currency notes, considerable amounts of various bacteria and germs were also found. According to S Ramachandran, the lead scientist of the study, notes carried various eukaryotic species, such as fungi (70%), bacterial populations (9%) and viruses (<1%). 78 pathogens were found, including Staphylococcus aureus, and Enterococcus faecalis (known to cause sinusitis, skin boils and food poisoning).
Interestingly, they also found 78 antibiotic-resistant genes. Out of those, some of the genes were resistant to the effects of erythromycin and penicillin. From an individual’s perspective, this means that if they were attacked by these pathogens, popular medications, including antibiotics like the ones mentioned above, wouldn’t be effective in combating them.
Gravity of the Situation
There have been a few other studies in the past concerning the currency-dwelling tendencies of microorganisms, and while the scale of these studies might differ, it’s evident that currency notes change hands a lot in the course of their journey from their origin to the point when they’re too mutilated to be used any further. Although they’re not known to carry microorganisms that might cause serious, chronic illnesses in a healthy individual, they may do some serious damage to people previously diagnosed with diseases like AIDS or leukemia, which reduce a patient’s immunity and prevent them from efficiently warding off infections.
With the advent of credit/debit card transactions and Internet banking, there has been a significant decrease in the frequency of using currency notes, but a physical world completely devoid of currency notes is impossible to imagine. Your best bet is to keep your hands clean at all times by washing them regularly; that way, you’ll not only protect others from receiving currency notes full of germs from your hands, but also protect yourself from countless illnesses!