Dirty money: UK cash and coins laden with life-threatening bacteria

·Head of Yahoo Finance UK
·1-min read


If there was ever a time to go cashless, now is the time.

According to a report by the London Metropolitan University, commissioned by financial comparison website money.co.uk, two life-threatening superbugs were found on 2p, 5p, 10p, £1, and £2 coins as well as £10, £20, and £50 notes.

The study looked at 36 samples from a random selection of all denominations of coins and notes. Over the period of eight weeks in a controlled lab environment, Dr Paul Matewele, professor of Microbiology at the London Met, and his students studied the bacteria.

They found that 19 different types of bacteria were found across UK coins, polymer £5 and £10 notes and paper £20 and £50 notes. More worryingly, two life-threatening bacteria associated with antibiotic resistant superbugs—Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Enterococcus faecium (VRE)—were found on the cash. Both of those superbugs are on the World Health Organization’s list of bacteria for which new antibiotics are urgently needed.

Table: London Met University/Money.co.uk
Table: London Met University/Money.co.uk

“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,” said Dr Matewele.

“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.”

In 2017, there were 13.1 billion cash payments made in the UK, according to trade association UK Finance.

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