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How Really Dirty Is Money?

When did you last stop to consider how dirty the coins in your pocket truly are? A recent study conducted by J.K.N. Kuria, R.G. Wahome, M. Jobalamin, and S.M. Kariuki sheds light on the quantity and quality of bacteria and fungi residing on money coins. The results are quite eye-opening and might make you think twice before handling coins without proper hand hygiene.

The researchers randomly sampled twenty-shilling coins from various individuals in different categories within the Westlands division of Nairobi Metropolitan province. The subjects included matatu taxi conductors, greengrocers, shoe shiners, butchers, food kiosk/restaurant attendants, grocery shop attendants, roast maize vendors, and school children. The goal was to identify potentially harmful microorganisms that could pose a public health risk.

The findings were startling. The average bacterial content on the coins ranged from 2.3 x 10^3 to 25.5 x 10^3, while fungi content varied from 11 to 377 colony-forming units. Among the isolated bacteria were Escherichia coli, Klebsiella, Serratia, Enterobacter, Salmonella, Acinetobacter, Enterococci, Staphylococcus, and Bacillus cereus—potentially pathogenic strains that can cause various infections and illnesses.

What’s even more concerning is that the study revealed the presence of potentially harmful fungi on money coins. The fungal species isolated were Penicillium spp, Aspergillus niger, Fusarium, Rhizopus, Altenaria spp, Candida spp, and Cryptococcus. This finding serves as the first report of potentially pathogenic fungi being discovered on money coins.

The implications of these findings are clear. Money coins can act as reservoirs for harmful bacteria and fungi, posing a public health risk, particularly for those who simultaneously handle money and food. The study strongly emphasizes the importance of hand hygiene to minimize the transmission of these microorganisms.

Next time you handle coins, remember to wash your hands thoroughly afterwards, especially if you’re involved in food preparation or consumption. Regular handwashing with soap and water or using hand sanitisers when soap is unavailable can significantly reduce the risk of contamination and subsequent infections.

So, the next time you come across money coins, remember that they are a means of exchange and potential carriers of bacteria and fungi. Stay vigilant, prioritize hand hygiene, and keep yourself and those around you safe from the hidden dangers that may lurk on the seemingly innocuous currency.


Kuria JK, Wahome RG, Jobalamin M, Kariuki SM. Profile of bacteria and fungi on money coins. East Afr Med J. 2009 Apr;86(4):151-5. doi: 10.4314/eamj.v86i4.46943. PMID: 20084997.

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