The ‘real dirt’ on your money

January 15, 2018

While estimates vary, more Americans than ever before are germaphobes—people for whom a handshake may be a risky transaction, to be counteracted immediately by hand washing or hand sanitizing. Indeed, according to an article by The Free Dictionary, 42% of Millennials, 27% of Generation Xers and 21% of Baby Boomers fear exposure to germs.

Perhaps the most famous germaphobe at the moment is President Donald Trump, who has admitted to avoiding “contamination” by using a straw to drink out of a glass and preferring not to shake hands, when possible.  According to results of a recent study, maybe the POTUS, who says he is a billionaire, also should fear money.

Covered by Time magazine in late 2017, the findings of the study add to a growing body of research that has established that paper money can harbor thousands of microbes from every environment it touches—whether that’s someone’s fingers, a waiter’s apron, a vending machine or the dingy area under someone’s mattress.

During the course of the study, first published in the journal PLOS ONE last April, researchers swabbed $1 bills from a bank in New York City to see what was growing and subsisting on paper currency. They found hundreds of species of microorganisms. The most abundant were ones that cause acne, as well as plenty of harmless skin bacteria. They also identified vaginal bacteria, microbes from mouths, DNA from pets and viruses.

Other research has shown that some bank notes and coins are home to pathogens such as E. coli, salmonella and staphylococcus aureus, which can lead to serious illness.

Cash also is often streaked with drugs, according to the Journal of Analytical Toxicology. In a study of ten $1 bills from cities nationwide, nearly 80% of them showed traces of cocaine.

What’s more, the environment of paper money is welcoming to whatever is going around. The $1 bill is 75% cotton and 25% linen, according to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing—which offers a soft environment into which microbes can settle.

However, there is no reason to panic, whether you are a germaphobe or not: Cash doesn’t typically have the right temperature or moisture conditions to allow microbes to grow and proliferate. Its porous surface actually helps it hold on to most of the germs it’s carrying, so not many microbes wipe off on your hands—meaning money is not very good at transmitting diseases.

Experts say to wash your hands after touching currency and before eating.

There also has been some thought given to changing the materials that money is made with. Some research has shown that plastic polymer bank notes, like those used in Australia and Canada, are “cleaner” than American bills, according to the Time report.

Research contact: @AbigailAbrams

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