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These Germs Might Be on Your Money

By: Toni Harrison
By: Toni Harrison

The lab at the College Station Medical center is one busy place.

"Our annual volume is close to 200,000 tests that we perform per year," said Robert Kirk, laboratory director, College Station Medical Center.

With all that work, they agreed to partner with News 3 and run tests on a different type of patient, money.

Bacteria that gets on your hands, can get on your money and our hands aren't nearly from germ free. But, we wanted to know just how dirty was the money in our area. Three bills and two coins were randomly collected from local businesses, we rubbed each money sample with a cotton swab. The swab was then stored in a sterile container and taken to Christine Cohen a clinical microbiologist at The Med where they were incubated for 72 hours.

"Out of the five specimens all of them grew some type of bacteria. All of them grew environmental flora and normal skin flora," said Christine Cohen, clinical microbiologist, College Station Medical Center.

That bacteria isn't harmful and is present almost every surface. With 15 years of experience, Cohen has seen a lot of bacteria. But, even she was surprised at what we found growing on one of our bills.

"I was alarmed by the fact that the one bill had a predominate and moderate amount of staph aureus present on it, I didn't expect that," said Cohen.

Staphlococcus aureus is a pathogen that can be harmful, especially in someone with a compromised immune system

"Staph aureus is quite often, frequently normal skin flora. It can cause wound infections, it can cause pneumonia and it can certainly cause food poisoning," said Cohen.

Cohen says these results show sometimes there is more bacteria floating around our purses and wallets than we care to know about.

"You need to be aware of the fact that money can transmit bacteria, can transmit microbes and not just bacteria but probably viruses and fungus," said Cohen.

That kind of makes you wonder, who had that bill before you and when was the last time they washed their hands?

"This information just gives you a little more reason to wash your hands after you handle money," said Cohen

Cohen says hand washing is the easiest way to prevent the spread of bacteria and disease. The staph aureus we found on the money, most easily enters the body through the eyes, nose and mouth. In most cases, soap and water can kill bacteria and keep it from causing infection. Cohen says when you can't wash your hands, alcohol based antibacterial gels that are sold over the counter are a good alternative.


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