Public health risks of (dirty) currency notes

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Currency notes (including paper notes and coins) are legal tenders used for various business transactions in the market place, offices, schools, hospitalsand in our daily activities and commutes. However, the way and manner that these legal tenders of business transactions are handled can pose a health risk to the users and the public health of any population. In most rural and urban communities in developing countries, currency notes are not handled properly. This abuse of the currency notes can result not just in their damage but in their being used as a means through which some infectious diseases including drug resistant bacteria can be transmitted in the population.

Microorganisms are ubiquitous. This implies that microorganisms are found everywhere even on the surfaces of currency notes. These microorganisms – which may be pathogenic in nature, can easily be passed on to the users and handlers of currency notes anywhere in the world. When personal hygiene is not taken serious when handling currency notes, the notes could be major sources of infectious disease spread in a population. If this is the case, these currency notes could represent important risks and public health hazards to the general population. The contamination of currency notes could play a major role in the transmission of infectious diseases and other harmful microorganisms in a defined human population when they are not handled properly. This is why it is important to take proper care of the currency notes and ensure that they are not sources of contamination to the general public.   

Currency notes are typical examples of fomites that could act as a non-living agent for disease transmission in human populations around the world. Fomites are inanimate or non-living objects that can help to transmit infectious disease agents or infections from one person to another and from one location to another.They includecurrency notes, water, tables, chairs and food that help to transmit infectious agents and/or diseases to susceptible human hosts in a defined human population. When currency notes are not well handled they could become contaminated by pathogenic microorganisms and serve as fomites through which some infectious diseases and their causative agents are transmitted in human populations.

Some of the infectious diseases or pathogens that could be transmitted through currency notes include:

  1. Cholera
  2. Diarrhea
  3. Dysentery  
  4. Skin infections
  5. Multidrug resistant bacteria
  6. Salmonella
  7. Shigella
  8. Escherichia coli
  9. Klebsiella
  10. Staphylococcus aureus
  11. And other community-acquired and hospital-acquired (nosocomial) infections 

It is almost a common practice for some people to fold currency notes and even put them in conditions that could further lead to their deterioration and contamination. Some others even bring the notes in contact with their skins. This kind of practice(s) can put the individual at risk of an infection caused by a potential pathogen. Even after handling currency notes, it is important that the user washes his or her hands with soap and running water. This will help to reduce the microbial load on the hands especially after counting or using some of these currency notes.

COVID-19 has awakened people’s consciousness towards cleanliness – something that is still far-fetched amongst many people in developing countries even with the raging cases of COVID-19 around the world. People must also extend the same precautions of COVID-19 towards their currency notes because currency notes could carry some potential pathogens and infections unbeknown to the user. The use of wireless money transfer services and e-banking and other paperless money transactions will help in curtailing the transmission of pathogens and infectious diseases or infections through currency notes. It is important that people adopt these alternative sources of banking or financial transaction in order to limit their possibility of being infected by a pathogen or infection through the use or handling of currency notes. 

Ways that the general public can prevent microbial infection due to the use of currency notes

  1. Always wash hands with soap and running water after handling currency notes.
  2. Use hand sanitizers when the possibility of washing hands with soap and running water is not a possibility at the moment.
  3. Ensure that currency notes are properly handled and kept clean at all times.
  4. Stop bringing currency notes in close contact with the skin because this could lead to infection.
  5. People working in banks and other places where large volumes of currency notes are handled should ensure to use face or nose masks in order to avoid the introduction of harmful particles from the currency notes into the respiratory tract.
  6. Use alternative systems of banking or financial transactions such as e-banking in order to limit your contact with currency notes.

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