Study shows fist bump may be safest greeting

Study shows fist bump may be safest greeting

To shake, slap or bump—that’s the question not only of etiquette, but of protection from illness, some British researchers say.

Researchers from Aberystwyth University in Wales, England, tested each form of greeting—the commonly accepted handshake, the sporty high-five and the increasingly popular fist bump—to determine which may be safest in terms of germ transmission. According to their findings, you may want to start bumping.

The research, published in the August issue of the American Journal of Infection Control, finds that, while a large portion of germs and bacteria were transferred during a handshake, that amount was cut in half with a high-five. And, even more impressive, the amount of bacteria transferred by bumping fists was as much as 90 percent less than shaking hands.

Donning thick sterile gloves, the researchers covered one glove in E. coli bacteria, then measured the amount of transmission to a sterile glove during the three most common greetings. Finding that knocking knuckles provided the least opportunity for transmission, the researchers set out to find why. Using paint on the gloves, they were able to measure the amount of actual surface covered during contact, which was much less from handshake to fist bump.

Additionally, they found greater transmission during longer contact, which is typically greater for handshakes and less so for high-fives and fist bumps. Direct contact is necessary for the microbial bacterial to move from one surface to another.

The researchers say their study was inspired by current attention on workplace hygiene, including germy keyboards, doorknobs and even electronic gadgets, such as smartphones and tablets.

“People rarely think about the health implications of shaking hands,” says Dr. Dave Whitworth, study co-author and senior lecturer at Aberystwyth University, in a statement. “If the general public could be encouraged to fist-bump, there is genuine potential to reduce the spread of infectious diseases.”

According to Dr. James Malow, infectious disease specialist at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, these findings aren’t surprising.

“In terms of bacterial transmission, the less contact you have, the less transmission will take place,” Dr. Malow says. “A fist bump provides much less contact.”

In addition, he says our protected, sweaty palms may be the greatest source of transmission from person to person.

“I think much of what we do with our hands involves the palmar surface,” he says. “If you touch your face, if you touch your lips or rub your eyes, you’ll most likely use your finger tips. So it’s certainly logical that avoiding palm-to-palm contact would lessen the risk of germ transmission.”

Still, Dr. Malow says the backbone of the prevention of infectious disease still remains proper hand hygiene—proper washing with soap and water or, alternatively, an alcohol-based gel.

And if you don’t have time or opportunity to wash your hands, perhaps opt for the fist bump or decline contact altogether, he says.

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  1. I’ve actually met someone who only gives fist bumps due to fear of transferring germs. Maybe in the future fist bumps will be the new prominent way of greeting instead of handshakes.

  2. Is a world without “touching” really a worthy goal?

  3. I guess Howie Mandel @howiemandel had it right all along!

  4. Lynn Hutley

    I hate shaking hands in the wintertime when everyone is coughing all over themselves. Let’s get this trend started – LOL!

  5. This would be an interesting experiment for job interviewing!

  6. They completely left out the absolutely safest greeting. DON’T TOUCH. The Asians either bow or do the “wai” hands palms together.

    All the greetings come from demonstrating you did not have a hidden weapon. Ebola and other viruses ARE hidden weapons.

  7. There is something to say about humans moving away from “touching” as a greeting, everything get less personal from there. But, I do love a good fist bump and would definitely appreciate it during flu season!

  8. What people do not understand is the history of the “greeting”. The greeting rituals with strangers were about safety from being attacked. The iconic Native American raised hand was a statement that “my weapon hand is empty”. The handshake devolved from the grabbing of each other at the elbow which was the way you checked the other for a hidden weapon.. In Asia one does not touch STRANGERS. You offer some variant of a bow which puts you in a poor defensive position. “I am taking a risk by exposing myself to you”. It is hard to draw a weapon with both hands together in front of you or by your side as you bow.

    This article is NOT suggesting we not touch people with special meaning to us. It is addressing greeting casual acquaintances or complete strangers.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.