There are concerns about the rise of antibiotic resistant infections, and the spread of these bacteria. There is a particular concern in hospitals where it is very easy to pass bacteria between patients via healthcare workers. Healthcare workers are trained to repeatedly wash their hands between patients to decrease the spread of bacteria. Even with hand washing, bacteria can occasionally be spread by carelessness. Researchers recently proposed that changing behaviors may be helpful in further reducing the transmission of dangerous bacteria.
The study involved comparing bacteria transmission rates between hand shakes, high-fives and fist bumps. It was shown that the limited time and surface area contact involved in a fist bump transmitted the least bacteria between people. The back of a hand is also less likely to come into contact with contaminated surfaces. While this finding is not a surprise, it does add weight to the notion that simple habits can reduce risk.
Washing hands does reduce the transmission of infectious agents, but it is also important to minimize the transmission of bacteria and viruses in other ways. People who are sick need to stay home from school and work until the infection is cleared. Sneezing and coughing aerosolizes pathogens into the air where they land on surfaces or are inhaled by other people. Covering a cough or a sneeze with the hands only allows those pathogens to be spread through surface contact when the hands touch various things before they can be washed. A cough or a sneeze should be covered by burying the face into an elbow, where the pathogens are contained into an area that generally does not come into contact with many surfaces. This can slow the spread of an infection between people. Many people also have the habit of touching their face frequently. This also transmits pathogens to routes of entry into the body (eyes, nose and mouth), but also contaminate the hands with pathogens the person may be carrying and transfer them to the next surface that the hands touch.
Part of staying healthy is avoiding infections. Bacteria and viruses are all around us every day. Some are harmful and can cause an infection if someone is exposed to them. Changing simple habits can reduce the risk of transmission between people. This is especially true in a hospital setting, but is also true in daily life. Next time someone wants to shake hands during cold and flu season, consider a fist bump instead.