Filthy fomites: Mom was right about money


Q. Are "fomites" something to embrace or shun, respect, or fear? Hint: Money's a funny one. –A. Greenspan


A. Shunning respectfully and knowledgeably is never a bad idea with objects that can pass along infection from person to person– fomites– such as money, a dirty towel, a doorknob. But "filthy lucre" is no more the villain than many others.

Consider that hand you just shook, which likely spent the day going from fomite to fomite: So many in fact it has been said you're more likely to catch something from shaking someone's hand than from kissing the person's lips.

Money's a funny fomite because of its overwhelming positive connotations, yet there the pesky little pathogens are, like warriors in a Trojan horse. One study of coins showed E. coli surviving for 7, 9, 11 days on U.S. pennies, nickels, and quarters– shorter for the pennies probably due to copper's toxicity to cells, says microbiologist Timothy Paustian of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Salmonella tested similarly.

Paper currency too has been implicated. So watch what you put in your mouth or on a table, says Colorado State University's Erica Lynn Suchmann, and wash hands often, for 20 seconds using soap and warm water.

Q. Word is these guys speak and breathe just fine, their hearts generally sound good upon examination, pulse rates and EKGs are okay, bowels churn with vigor, they exhale carbon dioxide with the best of us. But then suddenly cardiac arrhythmias set in, their tongues swell, throats spasm, airway obstructions develop. Is there a doctor in the house? Actually, maybe several, yet that won't necessarily save the victims. But hold the tears: They can die again and again as decreed by the facilitators (MD's, RN's, etc.) and the computerized interpretation of the many available body signals. Who are these "guys," anyway?


A. They're SimMan (TM) and AirMan (TM) of the University of Pittsburgh's WISER Institute, where life-and-death test situations don't have to lead to prompt medical decisions that carry irreversible results, says John J. Schaefer III, who developed AirMan. As "simulated humans," these teaching mannequins give students a second chance– or third or more–to get it right by recreating unstable patients in out-clinics, medical-surgical wards, emergency rooms.

"It's likely that Airman– or some variation of it– will become the standard way doctors are trained in the future," Schaefer says.

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