Dirty money

Money and credit cards shown to contain faecal matter

New results from a scientific study for Global Handwashing Day reveal that one in 10 bank cards (10%) and one in seven notes (14%) were found to be contaminated with faecal organisms.

The nationwide study carried out by researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Queen Mary, University of London investigated levels of bacterial contamination on the hands, credit cards and currency of various sample sizes in East and West London, Birmingham and Liverpool to raise awareness of Global Handwashing Day. The research highlights the importance of handwashing with soap before eating and after using the toilet.

The research, which was funded by Radox Handwash, also revealed that over a quarter of hands sampled (26%) showed traces of faecal contamination including bacteria such as E. coli. More significantly, out of the samples taken, 11% of hands, 8% of cards and 6% of notes showed gross contamination– where the levels of bacteria detected were equal to that you would expect to find in a dirty toilet bowl.

The participants who took part in the scientific study were also asked to fill out a questionnaire with the results revealing only 39% of respondents washed their hands before eating. 91% of respondents also stated that they washed their hands after using the toilet, although the surprising levels of faecal organisms contaminating the cards and currency suggest otherwise. Washing hands with soap can reduce diarrhoeal infections by up to 42% but only 69% of people reported doing this whenever possible.

Dr Val Curtis, from London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who leads the UK campaign for Global Handwashing Day said: “Our research shows just how important handwashing is - the surprising levels of contamination that we found on everyday objects is a sign that people are forgetting to wash their hands after the toilet, one of the key moments for infection prevention.

“We hope that on Global Handwashing Day, people take the time to think about washing their hands with soap and make it a routine part of their daily lives.”

Dr Ron Cutler, who led the research at Queen Mary, said: “Our analysis revealed that by handling cards and money each day we are coming into contact with some potential pathogens revealing faecal contamination including E. coli and Staphylococci. People may tell us they wash their hands but the research shows us different, and highlights just how easily transferable these pathogens - surviving on our money and cards.”

  • Research carried out by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Queen Mary, University of London in East London, West London, Birmingham and Liverpool between 1 August and 16 September 2012.
  • There were 272 participants (90 participants in West London, 90 in east London, 40 in Birmingham amd 52 in Liverpool), and each participant produced three ‘specimens’ (card, money and hands) as well as answering a questionnaire. In total, 816 specimens were collected.
  • Each swab was cultured on three different types of bacterial culture media, one to detect the overall levels of bacterial contamination, one which identified the levels of faecal contaminants including E coli, Streptococcus faecalis and Enterococci and the latter to identify the presence of staphylococci.
  • Questionnaire analysis conducted at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. The research found that over a quarter of all specimens (28%) were contaminated with more than 50 colony forming units of bacteria per 2cm2.

Global Handwashing Day video

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