Touching Cash Can Be Deadly Right Now

In the battle to contain coronavirus, let’s remember cash has always been a carrier of germs.

BY Rick Bursky
Mar.12,2020 / UPDATED ON MAR.14,2020

People like money, in fact, it’s fair to say that people love money. Think of all of the wonderful things that money does for you. But money also does some not so wonderful things –– like bring you in contact with more germs and bacteria than you can imagine. So, let’s start imagining some of them. 

A 2002 report in the Southern Medical Journal showed found pathogens — including staphylococcus — on 94% of dollar bills tested. You don’t have to be great at math to read that last sentence and understand that when you touch paper money, you’re touching some pretty nasty stuff. In fact, those bills in your wallet have been known to carry more germs than a household toilet. Speaking of toilets, traces of fecal matter have also been found on paper money. 

More recently, a 2017 study conducted in New York City, found microorganisms living on the surface of cash, ranging from mouth and vaginal bacteria to flu-like viruses. The World Health Organization recommends washing your hands after handling money. For even more eye-raising concern. Germs and bacteria can live on most surfaces for about 48 hours. Do you know who held that dollar bill you got back in change from Starbucks before someone gave it to Starbucks? And who had it before that person? Dare we say the word coronavirus? In case you're curious, most people don’t hold cash for long, especially bills of lower denominations, $1 and $5 bills are spent within 3 days.

We’re not making this stuff up.

South Korea’s central bank said it was taking all banknotes out of circulation for two weeks — and burning some — to reduce the spread of the virus, according to Reuters. China is also taking action and deep cleaning potentially infected cash with ultraviolet light and high temperatures, and in some cases, destroying it.

American money is made from a blend of cotton and linen, which has been shown to have higher bacterial growth than plastic polymers that some other countries use to make money. Canada has had plastic money since 2013, and the U.K. moved to a plastic-based bank note last year

Unfortunately, using a credit card doesn’t let you off scot-free. Microorganisms have been known to get pretty comfortable on plastic credit cards. Someone puts an infected card in a credit card reader, and then you put your credit card in that same reader. Perhaps the safest way to buy something right now is on Amazon, or even better, this might be the nudge you need to spend less and start saving money.

Keywords: coronavirusGerms and bacteria on moneystaphylococcusWorld Health Organizationcredit card germs
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