Daily Management Review

Limiting the Spread of Microbes: The Role of Innovative Technologies such as Bioguard


When the Covid-19 pandemic first started gearing up early last year, people suddenly became very aware of what they touched and came in contact with. Everything from door handles to grocery carts to the cash in our pockets, was suspect as a source of infection.
Videos, from comedians and health experts alike, flooded the internet and the airwaves instructing citizens on how to properly wash their hands. Hand sanitizer could not be procured or applied fast enough.  
The purported risks of handling banknotes and coins were discredited early-on by experts who clarified that the virus is mainly transmitted by infected droplets. As infection and immunity expert Dr. Christine Tait-Burkard explains, unless people sneeze onto banknotes, there is little danger.  They are no more risky than “contactless” payment methods such as credit cards, payment terminals or phones if people do not wash their hands after touching them.
While banknotes are very unlikely to transmit the coronavirus, the pandemic has served as a reminder that as the world’s “most widely used form of payment,” cash changes hands frequently and can indeed be a carrier for a variety of dangerous bacteria and fungi.
One banknote producer, Oberthur Fiduciaire, recognized the issue long before the public had ever heard of the coronavirus and developed Bioguard, an innovative solution designed to stop cash from transmitting unwanted microbes.
Cash as Carriers
Banknotes are made up of organic cellulose materials containing nutrients that facilitate the growth of microorganisms. Most fungi and bacteria can live for a very long time on this kind of surface.
A range of studies have been conducted examining the transmission and survival rates of various germs on different currencies. None found a direct link between a person’s illness and their having touched a banknote, but all confirm that different fungi, bacteria and viruses are found (in varying degrees) on cash.
Antimicrobial Resistance
Of particular concern to global health experts is the increasing threat of multi-drug resistant pathogens. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Antimicrobial Resistance, or AMR, occurs when bacteria, fungi, viruses or parasites evolve and no longer respond to existing antibiotics or medicines. They become more difficult to treat and infections become deadlier.
Take Staphylococcus aureus as an example. This bacterium is part of our skin flora and can be found in the noses of  30% of the world’s population. It is often inoffensive, but can also cause serious infections – especially when the bacterium is resistant to the antibiotics commonly used to treat it. Indeed, the WHO found that methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections are 64% more fatal than normal staph infections.

While the coronavirus is currently the most pressing global health threat, doctors and health experts have been working for decades on ways to address the dangerous rise of AMR and these “superbugs.” They are not the only ones who have been on the case.
Reducing the Risks
Most people have not heard of Bioguard, even if they have unwittingly benefited from it. Bioguard, a 2011 finalist for Best New Currency Feature, is produced by Oberthur Fiduciaire, a global security printer specializing in producing banknotes and other secure documents. Most people think of anti-counterfeit features when discussing security in banknote production, but Oberthur’s Bioguard technology also provides for the physical safety of users.
While recent reports have mainly focused on its antiviral capabilities in protecting the surface of banknotes from coronaviruses, Bioguard was initially developed to address the issue of cash hosting traces of microscopic fungi and bacteria.
Bioguard in Action
The treatment is applied both while producing the paper and then as a varnish post-printing and is effective throughout the lifecycle of the banknote. It does not change the security features, the look or feel of the banknotes and is ISO 10993 certified to not cause any skin irritations or health concerns.
The antibacterial properties of Bioguard against E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus, its antifungal effectiveness against Aspergillus niger and the antiviral capabilities for human coronaviruses, the HIHI influenza virus, and other flu viruses were all tested and certified using international standards.
While there are no guarantees the cash you touch is 100 percent germ-free, this technological innovation greatly reduces the risks. Moses Pelaelo, governor of the Bank of Botswana, is pleased by its impact on his country’s new banknotes. He states, “The Ultra post-print varnish protects the banknote against dust and any kind of liquid, while the Bioguard component is a key substance used to protect the public against bacteria and virus propagation by banknotes.”
A Silver Lining
Bioguard has been around for more than a decade, but in response to the ongoing global pandemic, Oberthur Fiduciaire has made its technology available to all accredited banknote producers and to other industries that might benefit as well. As one example, the company has suggested that given the current boom in online orders, takeout and delivery services, cardboard and other packaging could be treated with Bioguard to reduce the risk of transmitting the coronavirus as well as other bacteria, fungi and viruses.
Other companies are also finding innovative ways to provide safeguards for customers: UV-light is being used to quickly disinfect shopping carts and hotel rooms, drones are spraying large areas with disinfectant, and handsfree door openers make it easier to access buildings without having to touch a handle.
Silver linings from the current health crisis are hard to find, but one might be a reduction in the transmission of other dangerous and potentially deadly diseases thanks to innovative solutions and increased care when touching everything from cash to packages to shopping carts. The risks of coming in contact with these everyday items are reduced by preventive technologies and by keeping up good hand washing habits.