Think about the notes in your purse or wallet – how much do you really know about them and where could they possibly have been?
Coronavirus has made people much more aware of the disease spreading potential of notes with many retailers pushing people to use contactless cards but this is not a new discovery.
There’s good evidence that notes carry all sorts of nasties meaning that people are tending to be much keener on cashless methods of buying goods.
With the introduction of polymer notes, cash is circulating for longer with the much-used UK £5 note spending around a year doing the rounds whilst the rarer and less used £50 note being in people’s wallets for up to 5 years.
The problem is that wallets, purses and pockets are wonderful breeding grounds for bacteria and so the way we store cash actually increases the problem.
Can notes pass on coronavirus?
Let’s start with the potential of circulated banknotes passing on diseases and infections.
In recent studies, the US’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Princeton University, and the University of California, the SARS-CoV-2 virus can survive on copper for up to four hours and as long as 24 hours on banknotes.
The virus itself degrades over several days and so the potential for infection is reduced the longer it stays around but on plastic surfaces, it can potentially remain for many days which is troubling if you are handling polymer banknotes like in the UK or Canada.
Flu viruses have been known to live on linen based notes for up to 17 days and yet historically people are rarely troubled by handling money and pre-covid, handwashing was much rarer.
So can banknotes pass on covid? We think yes and when you consider how many hands they pass through on a daily basis and how quickly they can move, especially when used in a shopping area or mall then the potential is greatly increased.
It’s not just about coronavirus
Long before we’d even heard about the dreadful disease that has caused so much disruption, scientists had been looking at the issue of money changing hands and what that could carry with it.
In fact, cash doesn’t just transfer wealth, it also transfers a number of pretty grim passengers.
In a study of $1 bills carried out in New York, researchers found that amongst other things the bills they analysed carried with them viruses, fungus and rather surprisingly oral bacteria!
In a 2002 study published in the Southern Medical Journal researchers looked at the transmission of bacteria on paper notes and found that 94% of all the cash that they swabbed contained human faecal matter!
This means that alongside the cringe-factor, there is also the possibility of the transmission of staphylococcus, a major cause of stomach upsets.
Some attachments that you might not expect
What is the likelihood of your cash having traces of cocaine on it?
Amazingly an American study found that up to 80% of bills had traces of cocaine attached and we can only assume that this is because most of the cash in circulation has at some time or other been involved in a drug deal or used to snort coke. Researchers also found many instances of traces of methamphetamine, morphine, heroin and amphetamines.
In the New York study, researchers were looking at whether they could distinguish patterns of human behaviour based on what they could find on banknotes.
They were surprised to find that they could identify where a banknote had been due to the food particles that were stuck to the notes with fried chicken, fish and mollusc traces being found suggesting that notes could also transmit E.coli and salmonella.
Amazingly over 100 different strains of bacteria were identified and there was a high incidence of bacteria only found in animals. Dog bacteria were the most likely to be found on a note but horse bacteria also turned up in the middle of New York!
Watch your coins too
Linen based notes provide an ideal breeding ground for bacteria but it would be wrong to forget coins.
Coins tend to move quicker and circulate for a lot longer with the US mint suggesting a lifespan of 30 years and although a metal surface might not seem to be a good place for bacteria to survive, the opposite is actually true.
In a survey into the bacterial loading of coins a study in Nairobi, Kenya researchers looked at 20 shilling units and they found a remarkable amount of microbes.
The list includes; Escherichia coli, Klebsiella, Serratia, Enterobacter, Salmonella, Acinetobacter, Enterococci, Staphylococcus and Bacillus cereus and many more with the highest number of bacteria being 377 on one coin.
And in the UK, a London Metropolitan University study found 19 different bugs on coins including the superbugs MRSA and VRE and the life-threatening airborne bacteria Listeria.
What are the alternatives?
Many retailers are disinfecting notes and this is an option for countries that use polymer-based currency but is more troublesome for paper/linen banknotes.
It also relies on trust from the customer that this will actually be going on and will be done to a sufficient standard which cannot always be assumed to be the case.
Naturally, for retailers the need to continue to be able to transact, even if it is from behind a droplet resistant screen and being able to take payment with no physical contact is important.
One option would be to look at contactless payment methods such as the devices offered by the UTP Group. Having a payment method that can be concluded at arm’s length and requires no physical passing of cash is a good way to reduce the spread of any disease or unsavoury element.
Many companies are pushing customers towards their online offering. For retailers, this means that the customer pays online and then simply collects their order in a safe way from the store. The UTP Group also have an excellent payment gateway that enables companies to do this.
If retailers want to protect themselves and their staff from the nasties that are attached to cash then contactless is definitely the way to go.