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Dirty money and the flu pandemic

It's the flu season again, so time to dust off some research first published back in May last year in which researchers discovered that the human flu virus can survive on banknotes for up to 17 days.

Discussing the results ahead of publication, Yves Thomas, head of the National Influenza Research Centre at Geneva University Hospital, told Reuters that bank employees and others who have to handle large quantities of notes daily could be at risk: "This could be reduced if they wear gloves, or even a mask for those who have to examine currency closely."

Banknote contamination is longer-lasting when mixed with mucus from an infected person; and the chances of viral infection are more likely if people handling infected notes then touch their noses and mouths.

Given that seperate research indicates that almost all banknotes show traces of cocaine, this suggests a potential for widespread transmission.

As the researchers point out: "The unexpected stability of influenza virus in this nonbiological environment suggests that unusual environmental contamination should be considered in the setting of pandemic preparedness."

With a deadly influenza pandemic long overdue, perhaps the banking industry should consider ditching the greenbacks and switching to digital currency once and for all.

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