Richer Countries Have Fewer Bacteria on Banknotes, Study Finds

Richer countries have fewer bacteria on their money
An HSBC Plc employee counts 100 yuan bank notes at the bank's branch in Shanghai. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

The richer and more economically free a country, the fewer bacteria its banknotes carry, according to a study of paper money in 10 countries ranging from Burkina Faso to the U.S.

Researchers found a “strong correlation” between the amount of bacteria per square centimeter (0.16 square inch) on banknotes and a country’s ranking on the Index of Economic Freedom, Wageningen University in the Netherlands said on its website today. Currencies studied included the euro, U.S. dollar, British pound, Chinese yuan and Mexican peso.

Countries that rank lower on the economic freedom index presumably have older banknotes to which bacteria more easily cling, the university said. The indicator was developed by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal to measure nations’ degree of economic freedom.

“The age of banknotes plays a role,” Wageningen University said. “The older banknotes are, the more wrinkled they are, which means dirt and bacteria can more easily settle into the folds of the bills.”

The material from which banknotes are made also plays a role in their cleanliness, and polymer-based bills such as euro notes contained a quarter of the bacteria on the cotton-based banknotes used by most countries, according to the research.

Researchers in Australia, Burkina Faso, China, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, the U.K. and the U.S. studied a total of 1,280 banknotes collected at food-retail locations from stores to cafeterias, Wageningen said. The study was published in the journal Foodborne Pathogens and Disease, the university said.

Concentrations of illness-causing bacteria were low and in no case “alarming,” the university said. “If everyone washes their hands before eating or preparing a meal, the chances to get ill are not very big,” the statement said. The university didn’t rank the currencies in order of bacteria.

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