Cold and flu season… and coins

As I write this, cold season is in full swing. While shopping at the store, waiting at a bus stop, or sitting in your office, you’ve probably heard people coughing and sneezing all around you. So, how do you stay healthy when everyone else is sick?

If you’re an average person, you probably use hand sanitizer, wash your hands with antibiotic soap and water, and minimize your time around sick people. If you’re a coin collector, you probably get away from the crowds and dig into piles of coins that need sorting and categorizing.

Big mistake. Coins can be a major vector for germs. If you handle coins and currency (especially junk bins full of items from around the world) make sure you wash your hands and avoid touching your face. Tom DeLay isn’t the only one who as to worry about dirty money!

Dirty coins can make you sick

Dirty coins can make you sick!

A recent study by Good Morning America suggests that alcohol based hand sanitizers work best at killing germs, especially when they have a alcohol content greater than 60%. Make sure to use enough sanitizer – if the hand sanitizer takes less than 20 seconds to evaporate then you’re not using enough. You might also try rinsing with soap and water, then using hand gel for even better results.

While researching this, I was really surprised to find out that currency is often dirtier than coins. Paper is very porous, and it can hold lots of germs in those pores. Cotton, linen, and dyes are also very good at protecting bacteria from UV light, so there can be some nasty bugs lurking. Also, since bills are used for snorting drugs, they often come in direct contact with bodily fluids. Yuck, right?

How common are pathogenic bacteria on money? Asst. Prof. Shirley Lowe found “about 18 percent of coins and 7 percent of bills grew disease-causing bacteria”. That study was conducted in the US, where communicable diseases are less common than abroad. For coins that have traveled from exotic countries, the percentages may be higher. And, if foreign coins have germs, the risks are also higher that your body will have no immunity.

So, wash your hands and stay safe.

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