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Friday, November 20, 2009

Good Old Dirty Cash

It is obvious that paper currency is a major source of disease transmission. During the life of the average dollar bill, it will be handled by hundreds, if not thousands, of people. Is any physical object handled by more different people than paper currency? Add to this, paper currencies are made largely from cotton cloth, which makes them very absorbent.

Richard Rahn in The Washington Times (November 11, 2009) stated that millions become ill every year as a result of handling currency, and a not insignificant percentage of them die. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 36,000 Americans die each year from flu-related causes.

How many people received the flu from paper currency? Rahn (The Washington Times, November 11 2009) said, "The precise percentage is unknown, but if it is just 10 percent, that still translates into a couple of million needlessly ill people and thousands of deaths." Temper these numbers with the fact that many people suffer from pre-existing conditions.

What Lives On Our Currency?

Dr.Ted Pope and his colleagues at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base carried out tests on paper money collected from food stands and grocery stores. He revealed colonies of bacteria that are known to cause food poisoning and pneumonia in humans. (, June 2008)

The group collected 68 one-dollar bills that they dipped into a solution that enabled (but didn't promote) bacteria growth. Then, the bills sat on a glass slide for 12 to 24 hours while the researchers watched the bugs grow. 
The researchers identified as many as 93 bacteria isolates. Five of the bills had bacteria-like Staphylococcus aureus and Klebsiella pneumoniae, which can cause infections or pneumonia in healthy people. The researchers found that 59 of the bills had bacteria including Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Enterobacter, or Escherichia vulneris, which can cause a variety of illnesses, particularly infections in people with compromised immune systems."Only four of the bills had no detectable amounts of bacteria," Pope says.

However, Dr. Peter Ender, head researcher of the Wright-Patterson study, stressed that real health risks to the average consumer are pretty low, adding that U.S. dollar bills may be no more or less covered in microbial goo than, say, doorknobs, pens, or computer keyboards. But he pointed out that US currency, especially "finds its way into all areas of the world. With the rapid dissemination of money in the era of drug-resistant bacteria, perhaps a resistance clone could be spread from one geographic location to another,” he concluded. 

Philip Turner, who did research on currency and germs for ABC’s 20/20, added, "... bills were tested and found to be contaminated with germs of fecal, respiratory, and skin origin. Although the risk of contracting a serious infection from dirty money is low, the germ count is high enough to make it easy to contract a cold, a bout of diarrhea, and similar ailments.” (Philip M. Turner, The Secret Life of Germs, Pocket Books, 2001)

Many researchers warn that banknotes may be reservoirs for the common flu virus. Researchers reported in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology that human influenza viruses can survive on bills for three days but as long as 17 days if mucous is present.

Coco Ballantyne ("Dirty Money: Can the Flu Be Passed on Dollar Bills?", January 5 2009) reported studies suggest that the virus can only live on the skin for up to five minutes, which might be due to a variety of factors including temperature and pH of the skin, says Allison Aiello, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. That means, she says, that "even if it's on the bill, you are in much better shape if you can inactivate it on human skin."

Dr. Philip Tierno, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University's Langone Medical Center, said, "And even the humble dollar bill may have some defenses. The ink on freshly-printed U.S. dollars has a fungicidal agent in it that can inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi and the influenza virus can be killed more easily because of it." As the dollar gets used and abused – especially with perspiration or water – the strength of the ink weakens. The pulp -- like the ink -- also includes a fungicidal agent. (AnnaMaria Andriotis and Aleksandra Todorova,, April 30 2009)

The Best Defense For Dirty Money

What is the best way to inactivate a virus?  Aiello said to frequently wash your hands and do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth unless you have done so immediately before.

The Mayo Clinic staff ( advised people to keep in mind that antibacterial soap is no more effective at killing germs than is regular soap. Using antibacterial soap may even lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the product's antimicrobial agents — making it harder to kill these germs in the future.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers — which don't require water — are an excellent alternative to soap and water. If you choose to use a commercially prepared hand sanitizer, make sure the product contains at least 60 percent alcohol. 

The clinic said washing should involve rubbing your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds, remembering to scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails. Joe and Terry Graedon of The People's Pharmacy reported (November 19, 2007) that the longer you wash and rinse, the more effective the process. The Graedons suggested to sing the alphabet song as you wash to get the timing right.

While everyone agreed that hand-washing cut the risk of getting and passing on many infections, it has been unclear whether a bad hand-drying choice may dirty the hands up again. In other words, wiping with a germ-filled towel could undo the effect of the washing. Whether you wipe them, hold them under a dryer, or let evaporation run its course, your hands come out clean after a washing. Drying preference, researchers say, matters little.

 Use An Alternative To Physical Money?

As well as being a vehicle for disease transmission, physical money is expensive to produce. It is also subject to counterfeiting, easily stolen and costly to handle.

Richard Rahn ("Currency That Kills,", November 11 2009) said, "The best news could be that it is no longer necessary to use paper currency in the digital age. Payments of all types can be made by electronic means - with electronic banking; credit, debit and smart cards; and cell phones - all of which help the user avoid physical contact with dirty paper money."

One problem with electronic payment is that systems require the user to have a bank account. But, the growth of people with bank accounts stopped a couple of decades ago as the government started its war on money laundering, which, ironically, resulted in the unintended consequence of requiring more people to handle dirty paper money. Fewer and fewer people can now qualify for bank accounts. The young, who have no financial track record; the poor; and those in transient occupations are particularly discriminated against and thus are forced to use inefficient, costly and unhygienic paper currency.

Rahn pointed out that, lately, legislators and policymakers have put destruction of the citizen's financial privacy and tax collection above reducing the costs and dangers of physical currency.

The political class is also increasingly requiring banks and other depository institutions to spy on their customers and reveal all transactions to government officials - which gives individuals about as much privacy as having all their expenditures posted on a public Web site.

Rahn stated, "Encryption technology has developed to the point where electronic expenditures can be kept private if governments would only allow it. The fact is, people will not give up the use of paper currency, for good or bad reasons, until they know they will have the same anonymity with electronic money as they do with paper currency. Meanwhile, each year, millions of people needlessly get sick and thousands die because the folks who run Washington and the other world capitals are too dimwitted to understand the unintended consequences of their financial regulations - or are just plain callous." ("Currency That Kills,", November 11 2009)

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