Money, the root of all infections

BY Ruth Tam  April 24, 2014 at 6:20 PM EDT
Money and saving

Your money’s no good here. Creative commons image by y 401(K) 2013

Don’t accept anyone’s dirty money. Not because it’s wrong, but because it’s loaded with germs.

New York University researchers tested DNA on 80 dollar bills and found that the surface of paper currency hosts hundreds of bacteria types. In total, 3,000 types of bacteria were identified. The most commonly found strain causes acne. Others are associated with gastric ulcers, pneumonia and food poisoning.

“We actually found that microbes grow on money,” NYU’s Center for Genomics and Systems Biology’s director of genome sequencing Jane Carlton said to the Wall Street Journal.

The tested bills were collected from a Manhattan bank and the DNA collected was incredibly diverse. Half the DNA could be traced to humans. There were also occurrences of horse and dog DNA and even of white rhino. Even miniscule traces of anthrax and diphtheria were found.

But banks are afraid of counterfeiters, not germs.

While U.S. notes higher than two dollars are embedded with a security thread detectable by light, there are no features that guard against harmful bacteria.

Aside from sealing your cash in an airtight container and never touching it, a 2010 study published in Foodborne Pathogens and Disease suggests a change in material could help.

Researchers reported lower levels of bacteria on bills made of polymer, which is not absorbent, than ones based in cotton. Countries like Canada and Bhutan have already switched over. U.S. bills are still printed on a cotton-linen blend lasting just over 21 months.