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Revealed: Life threatening bacteria on the cash you handle every day

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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 8 weeks.

19 different bacteria were found across UK coins, polymer £5 and £10 notes and paper £20 and £50 notes, including 2 life threatening bacteria associated with antibiotic resistant superbugs – Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Enterococcus faecium (VRE).The life-threatening airborne bacteria, Listeria was also found.

13.1 billion cash payments were made in the UK in 2017, but paying for goods with cash is declining, with only 22% of transactions being paid for with coins and notes. Consumers like the convenience of contactless card payments, but could paying by plastic benefit your health too?

Last year the World Health Organisation (WHO) published its first ever list of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which pose the greatest threat to human health. Shockingly, money.co.uk can reveal 2 of these bacteria were found on the cash we touch everyday.

Bacteria found that poses the greatest risk to human health:

Superbug bacteria Where it was found The effect
Staphylococcus aureus

(MRSA)

2p, 5p, 10p, £1, £2, £10, £20, £50 Antibiotic resistant, causes common skin conditions such as boils and impetigo as well as food poisoning cellulitis and toxic shock syndrome.
Enterococcus faecium

(VRE)

2p, 5p, 10p, £10 This is a problem in hospitals due to antibiotic resistance and is associated with poor food hygiene. Can cause neonatal meningitis.

 

Other bacteria found of note: 

Bacteria Where it was found The effect
Listeria 20p, 50p, £1, £5, £10, £20 Resistant to some antibiotics. Exposure can result in septicaemia, abortions and encephalitis (swelling of the brain).
Coliforms 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 50p, £1, £5, £20 Bacteria often found in human and animal faeces. Can cause urinary tract infections and septicaemia.
Yeast £5 Can cause candidiasis infections including thrush and nappy rash.
Bacillus lentus 20p, £1 Can produce a toxin that causes diarrhoea.

 

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.”




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