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Revealed: Life threatening bacteria found on the money you handle everyday

publication date: Oct 4, 2018


Money under the microscope - Financial comparison website, teamed up with the London Metropolitan University to put money under the microscope to discover what’s really lurking in your wallet - the findings are not for the faint hearted.

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 8 weeks.

19 different bacteria were found across UK coins, polymer £5 and £10 notes and paper £20 and £50 notes, including 2 life threatening bacteria associated with antibiotic resistant superbugs - Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Enterococcus faecium (VRE).The life-threatening airborne bacteria, Listeria was also found.

13.1 billion cash payments were made in the UK in 2017[1], but paying for goods with cash is declining, with only 22% of transactions being paid for with coins and notes[2]. Consumers like the convenience of contactless card payments, but could paying by plastic benefit your health too?

The results

The study revealed cash is incredibly dirty and has become a breeding ground for bacteria. Last year the World Health Organisation (WHO) published its first ever list of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which pose the greatest threat to human health. Shockingly, can reveal 2 of these bacteria were found on the cash we touch everyday. For full results click here

Bacteria found that poses the greatest risk to human health:

Superbug bacteria

Where it was found

The effect

Staphylococcus aureus


2p, 5p, 10p, £1, £2, £10, £20, £50

Antibiotic resistant, causes common skin conditions such as boils and impetigo as well as food poisoning cellulitis and toxic shock syndrome.

Enterococcus faecium


2p, 5p, 10p, £10

This is a problem in hospitals due to antibiotic resistance and is associated with poor food hygiene. Can cause neonatal meningitis.

The full list of threatening superbugs, compiled by the WHO can be found here.


Other bacteria found of note:


Where it was found

The effect


20p, 50p, £1, £5, £10, £20

Resistant to some antibiotics. Exposure can result in septicaemia, abortions and encephalitis (swelling of the brain).


1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 50p, £1, £5, £20

Bacteria often found in human and animal faeces. Can cause urinary tract infections and septicaemia.



Can cause candidiasis infections including thrush and nappy rash.

Bacillus lentus

20p, £1

Can produce a toxin that causes diarrhoea.

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 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 World Health Organisation’s list of antibiotic resistant bacteria. It can cause infections of the abdomen, skin, urinary tract and blood. People with lowered immune systems are particularly susceptible to this infection.

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. The infection can cause food poisoning and even miscarriage. There have been 47 cases of Listeria reported as of June 2018 and 9 deaths.[3]

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

Dr Paul Matewele, Professor of Microbiology at London Metropolitan University said: “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.”

Hannah Maundrell, Editor in Chief of said: “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. We’d recommend and remind people to wash their hands thoroughly after handling money to help prevent spreading these harmful bacteria.”


Three of each denomination of coins were placed in petri dishes and growth media were added to allow bacteria to cultivate. The coins were chosen at random and samples were taken at the same time.

The notes were chosen at random and swabbed at the same time as the coins. Both the coins and the notes were then analysed in the microbiology lab at London Metropolitan University over an 8 week period (July 2018 - Sept 2018).


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