Health and Wellness

Can going cashless prevent coronavirus spread? Here's what the WHO wants you to know

@JulieK | Twenty20

As many Americans shop for supplies amid the coronavirus outbreak, concerns have circulated about whether handling cash could contribute to the spread of the virus. Some outlets reported that you should use contactless payment methods instead of paper money.

Cash is notoriously covered in germs; studies suggest that paper bills can contain bacteria and viruses, plus lead to the spread of disease. The lifespan of various bills ranges four to 15 years, according to the Federal Reserve, meaning your bills have a lot of time to accumulate germs. 

And in China, where there are more than 80,500 cases of COVID-19, banks began disinfecting cash with ultraviolet or heat treatments in February to prevent the further spread of the virus.

So what is the reality when it comes to COVID-19 and cash?

Despite reports that the World Health Organization was pushing people to use contactless payments, a spokesperson for the WHO tells CNBC Make It it has not issued any warnings or statements about the use of cash. Instead, it reiterated that you should wash your hands, including after handling money, especially if you're eating or touching food.

For starters, COVID-19 doesn't spread by penetrating the skin on your hands, Michael Knight, assistant professor of medicine at the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, tells CNBC Make It.

"Getting coronavirus, or other respiratory viruses like influenza, on your hands only leads to infection when it is transferred from your hand to places like your mouth, nose or eyes," he says.

Additionally, if you stick to contactless payments but don't wash your hands after touching your phone, credit card or a payment terminal, "you are still susceptible to potential infection," Knight says. 

Given that, the best measure you can take to prevent the spread of germs is hand-washing. If your job requires that you handle money (or any other potentially contaminated surface), it's important to be diligent about washing your hands and not touching your face, Knight says. If you want to wear disposable gloves, it's still a good idea to change them and wash your hand between touching money and preparing food, according to the New York Department of Health. Otherwise you're just spreading germs with your gloves instead of your hands.

You should also wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after going to the bathroom, before eating and after blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing, according to the Centers for Disease Control. (Using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol is recommended if you can't wash your hands.)

The CDC suggests that you also clean and disinfect anything else that you tend to touch a lot using a regular cleaning spray or wipe. 

COVID-19, has infected more than 100,000 people and caused at least 3,410 deaths worldwide, according to data complied by Johns Hopkins University. In the United States there are currently at least 233 cases of COVID-19 and 14 deaths in Washington and California.

It is believed to be spread through respiratory droplets from an infected person sneezing or coughing. While it's unclear how long the virus survives on surfaces, it could spread from touching a contaminated object and then touching your eyes, mouth or nose.

Check out: The best credit cards of 2020 could earn you over $1,000 in 5 years

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