Coins and bank notes are crawling with bugs and deadly diseases, researchers find

2 October 2018

If you haven’t ditched cash in favour of a card or contactless yet, you might want to think again.

New research from London Metropolitan University and financial website has revealed that the cash in your pocket could be home to life-threatening bacteria such as MRSA and listeria.

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

According to the study, 19 different types bacteria were found across British coins and notes, including two life-threatening bacteria associated with antibiotic resistant superbugs - staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and enterococcus faecium (VRE). The life-threatening airborne bacteria, listeria was also found.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Matewele says: “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. 

“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.”

The 2p, 5p, 10p, £1 and £2 coins, as well as the £10, £20 and £50 notes were all found to have staphyloccus aureus (MRSA), an antibiotic resistant bacteria which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has listed as one of the greatest threats to life. It can cause common conditions such as boils and impetigo as well as food poisoning, cellulitis and toxic shock syndrome.

Enterococcus faecium was found on the 2p, 5p and 10p coins as well as the £10 note. It is also present on the WHO’s list of antibiotic resistant bacteria. It can cause infections of the abdomen, skin, urinary tract and blood.

Listeria was found on the 20p, 50p and £1, as well as the £5, £10 and £20 notes. The bacteria can lead to infection which is usually caught by eating contaminated food. There have been 47 cases of listeria reported as of June 2018 and nine deaths.

Bacteria found in faeces was also present on the cash swabbed, which can cause urinary tract infections and septicaemia. Bacteria which can cause thrush, nappy rash and diarrhoea was also found.

Hannah Maundrell, editor in chief of, says: “We were really shocked when the results revealed two of the world's most dangerous bacteria were on the money we tested.

“We thought the new polymer notes would be cleaner but were stunned to find out even they were growing some life-threatening bugs. 

"These findings could reinforce the argument for moving towards a cashless society and might be the nail in the coffin for our filthy coppers. I suspect people may think twice before choosing to pay with cash knowing they could be handed back change laced with superbugs." 

Finally she adds: “We’d recommend and remind people to wash their hands thoroughly after handling money to help prevent spreading these harmful bacteria.”


In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I suspect that the alternative to cash (cards and phones) would give the same results

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

S C A R Y! Especially in butcher shops and bakers etc where they handle food and money. YUK!

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I'm guessing that this has probably always been the case, so the cynic in me says it's another way to persuade us not to use cash anymore.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Perhaps the cocaine in the banknotes will kill the bugs?

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