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'Fist-bump' less likely to spread germs than handshake

Methicillin-resistant Staph aureus
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A new study indicates that when people in hospitals practice “fist-bumping’ when greeting one another instead of shaking hands, it spreads fewer germs. In a statement released by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, which published the study, fist-bumping “still [addresses] the cultural expectation of hand-to-hand contact” between patients and their doctors and nurses without exposing them to possible germs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than 721,000 healthcare-associated infections in 2011. Of particular concern are antibiotic-resistant infections such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which are more difficult to treat.

In the current study, researchers tested alternative greetings such as fist-bumping to see if they would spread fewer germs than a traditional handshake. In the experiments, a “greeter” immersed a sterile gloved hand into a container of germs. Once the glove was dry, the greeter shook the hand of someone wearing a sterile glove; the greeter also exchanged a fist-bump and high-five with a recipient wearing a sterile glove. The types of exchanges differed in length of time and the amount of contact.

After the exchanges were done, the gloves worn by the receivers were placed in a solution to count the number of germs that were transferred during contact. Almost twice as many germs were transferred during a handshake as during the high-five; substantially lower numbers of germs were transferred during a fist bump as during a high-five. The longer the person with the contaminated glove had contact with and the stronger their grip was with the person receiving the hand shake, high-five, or fist-bump, the more germs were spread.

“Adoption of the fist bump as a greeting could substantially reduce the transmission of infectious diseases between individuals,” said study author, David Whitworth, PhD, of the Institute of Biological, Environmental, and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Ceredigion, United Kingdom. “It is unlikely that a no-contact greeting could supplant the handshake; however, for the sake of improving public health we encourage further adoption of the fist bump as a simple, free, and more hygienic alternative to the handshake.”

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