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Life threatening bacteria found on the money you handle everyday

08 October 2018

Two superbugs including MRSA have been found on coins and bank notes, which were examined as part of a study by financial comparison website money.co.uk and the London Metropolitan University to discover what’s really lurking in your wallet.

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).

Both bacteria are on the World Health Organisation's (WHO) list of antibiotic-resistant bacteria which pose the greatest threat to human health. 

Staphyloccus Aureus (MRSA) can cause common conditions such as boils and impetigo as well as food poisoning, cellulitis and toxic shock syndrome. Enterococcus faecium can cause infections of the abdomen, skin, urinary tract and blood. 

The life-threatening airborne bacteria Listeria was also found on the coins and notes tested. 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 9 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.

Dr Paul Matewele 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, added: “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 the full results please visit: https://www.money.co.uk/guides/revealed-the-life-threatening-bacteria-on-your-cash.htm