The Fear Factor on Ebola is over the top right now. We are spending countless hours in the media analyzing footage of health workers, figuring out how a nurse in Texas contracted the disease despite strict quarantine procedures, and debating over whether to travel on aircraft. In all of this though, the transmission methods of Ebola have been well understood for more than 30 years, and there has been no mutation of the virus that would suggest transmission has evolved. Although I did think Borowitz’s take on this was classic (New Yorker Post by Andy Borowitz.)
It is estimated by the WHO that up to 80% of viral and bacterial transmissions occur through contact via your hands. That being said, it turns out physical bank notes are a huge transmission vector for viruses like Ebola.
“The NYU researchers identified 3,000 types of bacteria in all — many times more than in previous studies that examined samples under a microscope,” wrote WSJ’s Robert Lee Hotz.
(See “Why you shouldn’t put your money where your mouth is” April 18, 2014)
Viruses and bacteria can live on most surfaces for about 48 hours, but paper money can reportedly transport a live flu virus for up to 17 days. A study published in Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control found that some microbes can have an even longer lifespan on plastic polymer bank notes.
A team of researchers from the departments of Biochemistry and Microbiology, Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki, had, in a recent work published in International Journal of Advanced Biological Research, isolated and identified some disease-causing microorganisms on Nigerian currency notes obtained from bankers, beggars, market women and bus conductors in Lagos, Onitsha, Enugu and Abakaliki. They found that the currencies used by beggers and hawkers were extremely contaminated with various disease causing microorganisms followed by the currency used by traders, taxi drivers and market women, advising that adequate care must be taken by those handling these currencies. The strongest correlation it appears is when someone handles cash, and then eats soon after. This statistically dramatically increases the chances of transmission. In this study, however, they appear to suggest that Polymer bank notes are less effective means of virus or bacterial transmission.
Yesterday I interviewed Peter Schlebusch the CEO Private and Business Banking for Standard Bank, the largest bank (by assets) on the African continent. They have thousands of staff in Africa and staff traveling to Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) effected zones frequently. Schlebusch said that transmission of the Ebola virus via cash notes should not be discounted…
“There’s been numerous studies over time on the hygiene of banknotes and the passing of banknotes from one person to another. Some of [our] colleagues in West Africa will tell [us] that there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that some of the Ebola transmission could take place via banknotes, which I guess just makes another case for mobile money” – Peter Schlebusch (Standard Bank)Breaking Banks; Radio Show, October 16th, 2014
While I don’t want to get caught up in fear mongering over Ebola transmission, because there is already far too much hype. It would seem the prudent thing is to start using Moven, Venmo, ApplePay and Google Wallet exclusively. The death of cash appears inevitable in any case…
It would just be better that we use this as a catalyst for the death of cash, rather than the death of cash users.