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ATMs as Filthy as Public Toilets, Says Study, But Don't Panic

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Bacteria free fashion? (istockphoto) istockphoto

(CBS) Call it dirty money. A new report out of Britain claims that ATMs are as filthy as public toilets and researchers say they have the microbes to prove it.

"We were surprised by our results because the ATM machines were shown to be heavily contaminated with bacteria; to the same level as nearby public toilets," Dr. Richard Hastings told the Daily Mail.

Hastings is a microbiologist for BioCote, a company that makes an anti-bacterial coating that one assumes would work well on ATMs. So there is a vested interest in the results.

The company told the Daily Mail, they took swabs from ATMs, public toilets and eight other locations Britons thought were disgustingly dirty, including subway seats, public telephones and bus stops. They left the swabs overnight and by morning had a fine growth of pseudomonads and bacillus, at least on the ATM and toilet swabs.

But Dr. William Schaffner, a preventative medicine specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, says don't hit the panic button just yet.

"Bacillus is trivial," he tells CBS News. "It only causes infections in the most compromised people in hospitals. Pseudomonads is quite similar."

Schaffner says you could swab almost anything and find these two microscopic buggers.

"We live in a microbial world," he says. Whether found on telephones, ATMs, toilet seats, folded money, or  counters in dept stores, these types of environmental bacteria have never been conclusively demonstrated to transmit illness.

"99 percent of transmission of bacteria that makes you sick is between human beings," says Schaffner. 

In fact, says Schaffner, the new obsessions with bacteria is actually a rehash.

"At the beginning of the 20th century," he says, "it was the dawn of the bacterial era. They were culturing everything and even disinfecting the mail."

None of it was proven to make them any healthier.

So what does the doctor recommend? Advice you know well - keep washing those hands and stand several feet clear of people with influenza. Their microbes are airborne.

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