Issuing seperate currency in leper colonies…

Elaine’ s idle mind blog has a post which discusses another aspect of colonisation – leper colonies.

There was a belief that leprosy could spread via currency as well. This the masters issued a seperate leper currency in these colonies:

This belief was popular at the end of the 19th century, when leprosy was thought to be highly contagious and patients were quarantined in isolated colonies. Healthy people worried about touching money that had been in contact with leprosy patients, so many governments issued separate currency only for use in leper colonies.

The US operated the Palo Seco Leper Colony in the Panama Canal Zone. Palo Seco coins were backed by US currency deposits and corresponded to US coins in size and weight, except that they had holes. Leprosy affects peripheral nerves, and holed coins made it possible for patients to string them together for ease of handling.

Here are some more pictures of leper colony coins.

Today, we know that leprosy isn’t transmissible by money. Most doctors knew this back then as well. The differentiated currency was mainly an excuse to further segregate leprosy patients and prevent them from escaping from their colonies.

Currency is a poor agent for disease transmission. First of all, human skin is naturally covered in thousands of strains of bacteria (even antibiotic-resistant ones!), many of which play a protective role by competing against pathogens and suppressing fungal growth. A deadly microbe on a dollar bill would have little chance of infection unless people are stuffing currency into their respiratory passages. (Or picking their nose and rubbing their eyes after handling money. Don’t do that.)

She says infact plastic money could be carrying more infections:

Even then, pathogens don’t transfer well on porous surfaces like paper or fabric*. Viruses and bacteria actually survive much longer on hard surfaces like plastic credit cards. Every time you insert your credit card in a card reader, you’re picking up germs from every other credit card that reader has processed. One can imagine credit cards being an agent of transmission in some future pandemic.

No idea about this at all.

Here is more about leper colony money..


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