Tallinn University of Technology

In the flu season, it has become extremely topical to follow hygiene principles to prevent infectious diseases.

Diseases can be transmitted to people in daily activities, including by using cash. Several countries are trying to reduce this problem by introducing polymer money instead of paper money.

Doctor of Medicine Khalil Bassam, a graduate of the Department of Health Technologies, recently defended his Master’s Thesis on the microbial contamination of cash.

Khalil Bassam compared in his Master’s thesis the microbial contamination of paper money with polymer money. He compared euros from Tallinn and pounds from London. The study compared four types of banknotes: 5- and 10-pound (polymeric money) and 5-and 10-euro banknotes (paper money). The microbial level was measured with the ATP (adenosine triphosphate) method and the result was expressed in RLU units (Relative Light Unit). Bassam carried out the measurement of banknotes at the Microbial Innovation Technology Laboratory in Derby, United Kingdom.

Picture of euros

As a result of the study, Bassam found that there is no significant difference in the amount of microbial contamination in paper money and polymer money – both showed the same level of microbes. In doing so, he contributed to the rejection of the myth that polymer money helps to reduce human infection with infectious diseases. He also made a remarkable discovery that 5-pound and 5-euro banknotes contained several times more microbes than 10-pound and 10-euro banknotes.

The fact that 5-euro and 5-pound banknotes contained more germs indicates that these are circulated much more frequently. It may also refer to the socio-economic background of the people who used the money.

With his Master’s thesis, Bassam outlined a biological risk factor to which little attention is paid – cash. During his defence, the author also referred to the risk that paper money could be used as a means of bioterrorism. For example, in a study at the University of New York, microbes of Siberian plague were found on cash. Bassam said that countries should have a contingency plan for such a bioterrorist emergency – to switch to the electronic payment methods during the crisis period and to stop using cash.

Khalil Bassam, a UK citizen with medical education, came to Estonia and enrolled in the Department of Health Technologies of TalTech, as he found that the curriculum combines health care and digital solutions at a modern level. Bassam found the curriculum to be unique in Europe and valuable for continuing his career in the UK.

The Master’s thesis was supervised by Professor Piia Tint of the Faculty of Economics and Lecturer Tarmo Koppel. The supervisors highly value the practical value of the Master’s thesis especially in terms of occupational safety, as customer service staff is the largest part of the Estonian workforce.