PROVO, Utah — Even before the novel coronavirus reared its ugly head, you might have thought a time or two about the possibility of handling money and how it could make you sick. Study after study has shown the cash in our wallets is just teeming with all sorts of microbes, bacteria and other gunk. Microbiologists have said COVID-19 could be among them.
“Anything that’s handled and not regularly cleaned is just full of germs,” said Julianne Grose, an associate professor with BYU’s Department of Microbiology and Molecular Biology. “So right now, the coronavirus could be on money. We don’t have evidence either way for it.”
But so far, the risk is tiny when compared to how the virus is mainly spread — sick people coughing or sneezing droplets of the virus into the air.
“We can detect COVID-19 on surfaces after they have been exposed, so it’s possible. How probable? Who knows? People should be far more concerned about direct contact (with the virus),” said Grose.
Last month, a study funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health found the virus can live up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to three days on plastic and stainless steel.
Researchers stopped short of testing the surfaces of cash or coin.
“So there’s no good, strong scientific studies to show that it’s on money or not,” Grose said. “It’s all a guess because we don’t have a good, peer-reviewed scientific study.”
Sure, being cautious with your cash is a great idea. You could set it aside for a couple days, or even let it sit out on your back porch and let the sun’s ultraviolet rays kill the virus.
“Absolutely, the good old sun is great at decontaminating things,” Grose added. “That’s what I do when get a box from Amazon or something – I leave it out in the sun.”
Your best bet is something we should be doing anyhow, regardless of a pandemic — washing our hands every time after handling money.
“They (viruses) have glycoproteins that if you can, think of them kind of like oils, right? Oils don’t like soap. Soap breaks down oils. That’s what happening to the virus, it is being broken down by soap. So, that’s why handwashing with soap and water is so powerful,” Grose said.
Credit or debit cards and payment apps will help you avoid touching dirty money, but they’re not perfect. Germs can build up on your plastic and smartphones too, so you should wipe those down often.