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A handshake full of germs

A study reveals that the everyday handshake spreads 10 times more germs than other greetings.

A handshake full of germs

When it comes to preventing the spread of germs, those who opt for the ‘fist-bump’ over the handshake are not just a tad cooler, they are also a whole lot smarter.

While the traditional handshake has long been a respectable way to greet fellow counterparts, a study has revealed it is also the germiest.

The study published in the American Journal of Infection Control involved researchers testing three types of greetings in various experiments: handshake, fist-bump, and high five, and then measuring how much bacteria had been transferred.

One of the experiments involved dipping a hand covered with a glove into a container loaded with a mild strain of E.coli bacteria. The gloved hand then shook, fist-bumped and high-fived a clean-gloved hand, which was then tested for bacteria.

The results revealed that handshakes transmitted 10 times more bacteria than fist-bumps and 2 times more than high-fives. The longest, firmest handshakes transmitted the most.

As David Whitworth, a senior lecturer in biochemistry at Aberystwyth University-Ceredigion in the United Kingdom explains: “A short, sweet fist bump will transmit the least bacteria, and even a high-five is better than a traditional shake”.

The reason behind a fist-bump being more sanitary than the other greetings is largely to do with the smaller amount of surface area that comes in contact between the two hands. While different areas of the hand carry different amounts of bacteria, a handshake is obviously more encompassing.

Although hand hygiene isn’t a new thing, prior to this study, there was very little research out there that specifically focused on germs transmitted via handshakes, as opposed to touching various surfaces and objects such as doorknobs and remote controls.

The authors of the study hope that the results encourage people to become more germ conscious and Whitworth said he hopes the norm changes, particularly in hospitals.

‘‘In a hospital, you really don’t want people to shake hands. It’s an unnecessary risk’’.

While Whitworth divulges, “You can’t really imagine a world where people don’t greet each other physically” he says, “It seems to be a basic human need”, he feels as though the fist-bump can provide a satisfying alternative, although also concedes that it isn’t for everyone “but I couldn’t imagine the British prime minister doing that.”

Associate professor in the school of nursing at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and president-elect of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, Mary Lou Manning is not an advocate of the handshake alternative, feeling that they shouldn’t be replaced with fist bumps in hospitals. The more hygienic idea, she says, is to promote rigorous hand-washing and ban hand-to-hand greetings altogether. “That’s already starting to happen in a lot of places,” she says.

Either way, the study will surely make you reconsider your next handshake and heres to hoping someone comes up with a germ-free alternative greeting sometime soon.

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