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Image credit: Laura Rettie (Dot Zinc)

Dirty money: Life threatening bacteria found on UK cash

Financial comparison website money.co.uk teamed up with the London Metropolitan University to put money under the microscope to discover what’s really lurking in your wallet – the findings are not for the faint hearted.

Dr Paul Matewele, Professor of Microbiology at London Met, and his students took 36 samples from a random selection of all denominations of coins and notes. The microbiologists studied the bacteria in a controlled lab environment over a period of eight weeks.

The study revealed cash is incredibly dirty and has become a breeding ground for bacteria.

In total, 19 different bacteria were found across UK coins, polymer £5 and £10 notes and paper £20 and £50 notes, including  two life threatening bacteria associated with antibiotic resistant superbugs – Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Enterococcus faecium (VRE).The life-threatening airborne bacteria, Listeria was also found.

The 2p, 5p, 10p, £1 and £2 coins, as well as the £10, £20 and £50 notes were all found to have Staphyloccus Aureus (MRSA), an antibiotic resistant bacteria which the World Health Organisation has listed as one of the greatest threats to life. It can cause common conditions such as boils and impetigo as well as food poisoning, cellulitis and toxic shock syndrome.

Enterococcus faecium was found on the 2p, 5p and 10p coins as well as the £10 note. It is also present on the World Health Organisation’s list of antibiotic resistant bacteria. It can cause infections of the abdomen, skin, urinary tract and blood. People with lowered immune systems are particularly susceptible to this infection.

Listeria was found on the 20p, 50p and £1, as well as the £5, £10 and £20 notes. The bacteria can lead to infection which is usually caught by eating contaminated food. The infection can cause food poisoning and even miscarriage. There have been 47 cases of Listeria reported as of June 2018 and nine deaths.

Bacteria found in faeces was also present on the cash swabbed, which can cause urinary tract infections and septicemia. Bacteria which can cause thrush, nappy rash and diarrhoea was also found.

Commenting on the results, Dr Paul Matewele, Professor of Microbiology at London Metropolitan University said: “One of the most shocking discoveries was finding so many microorganisms thriving on metal, an element you wouldn’t normally expect to see germs surviving on. The bugs have adapted to their environment, resulting in coins becoming a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. 

“People who have compromised immune systems could be most at risk from handling dirty money –  if you’re visiting people in hospital who might be vulnerable to infection, you could unknowingly transfer bacteria off your cash which is resistant to antibiotics.”

Hannah Maundrell, Editor in Chief of money.co.uk said: “We were really shocked when the results revealed two of the world’s most dangerous bacteria were on the money we tested. 

“We thought the new polymer notes would be cleaner but were stunned to find out even they were growing some life threatening bugs. These findings could reinforce the argument for moving towards a cashless society and might be the nail in the coffin for our filthy coppers. I suspect people may think twice before choosing to pay with cash knowing they could be handed back change laced with superbugs. 

“We’d recommend and remind people to wash their hands thoroughly after handling money to help prevent spreading these harmful bacteria.”

For full results of the study click here.


About Sarah OBeirne

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