Europeans believe cash to be worn out, dirty and riddled with bacteria, according to a MasterCard survey which found that more than half of respondents think that notes and coins are the least hygienic item they come into contact with in their day-to-day lives.
The poll of around 1000 people in each of 15 countries found that in every nation cash is perceived to be the least hygienic item of all - more so than escalator handrails, the buttons on a payment terminal and books in a library.
Across all of the countries quizzed, this view is held by 57% of respondents. Italians are most convinced by the dirtiness of their euros, with 66% thinking cash is the least hygienic, compared to just 48% of Finns.
MasterCard says that people are right to be concerned, citing independent research carried out by scientists at Oxford University revealing that European bank notes on average contain over 26,000 bacteria, with 2400 bacteria found on even the cleanest, newest currency.
Ian Thompson, professor of engineering science, Oxford University, says: "The bank notes we tested harboured an average of 26,000 bacteria, which, for a number of pathogenic organisms is sufficient for passing on infection...With banknotes passing between so many individuals there is merit in a wider study tracking the spread of resistant strains through movement of bank notes globally."
Europeans may be squeamish about dirty cash but as recent events in Cyprus (which was not among the 15 countries surveyed) show, bank notes, no matter how bacteria-ridden, are still much in demand.