Bacterial contamination of paper currency

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From: Southern Medical Journal(Vol. 95, Issue 12)
Publisher: Southern Medical Association
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,380 words

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ABSTRACT: One-dollar bills were collected from the general community in western Ohio to survey for bacterial contamination. Pathogenic or potentially pathogenic organisms were isolated from 94% of the bills. These results suggest a high rate of bacterial contamination of one-dollar bills.


ENTERING the antibiotic era, it was anticipated that morbidity and mortality from infectious diseases would continue to decrease over time. However, the death rate from infectious diseases increased by 58% from 1980 to 1992, making it the third leading cause of death by 1992. (1) There is also significant morbidity from infectious disease. Furthermore, with the emergence of drug-resistant pathogens, many infections have become more difficult to treat. Since communicable diseases can spread through contact with fomites, paper currency could play a role.

Paper currency is widely exchanged for goods and services in this country and in most countries worldwide. In 1999, the United States Department of the Treasury printed more than 35 billion one-dollar bills, each with a lifespan of about 18 months. (2) One-dollar bills are widely used, and each bill is exchanged many times during the time it circulates. If some of these bills are contaminated with pathogenic bacteria, there is potential to spread these organisms.

Data regarding the bacteriologic contamination of paper currency are limited. A review of the medical literature revealed only one investigation involving the bacterial contamination of money in the United States. (3) Our study adds to this limited body of literature.


We solicited one-dollar bills from the general public at two sites: the checkout line at a local grocery store and the line to a concession stand at a local high school during a basketball game. Volunteers were eligible to participate if they had a one-dollar bill in their possession. All eligible persons who were approached agreed to participate. Demographic data regarding the volunteers were not collected. Those who agreed to participate were instructed to roll the bill and place it directly into a vial of brain-heart infusion broth. They were then reimbursed with new one-dollar bills. After soaking for 30 to 60...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A98033286