The handshake is a deeply rooted social custom. It indicates good manners in social and professional situations. It also turns out to be a good way to transfer germs, bacteria, and viruses to the people around you.
Why Doctors and Scientists Want Us to Stop Shaking Hands
A better alternative to the handshake? The fist bump (aka pound, dap, knuckles, fist pound), a more casual greeting made mainstream by President Obama.
A new study at Aberystwyth University in the UK tested the germ-carrying potential of high fives, fist bumps, and handshakes. It found that handshakes transferred 10 times more bacteria than the fist bumps. Handshakes also transferred twice as much bacteria as high fives. It was not just the larger suface area of handshakes that spread the most germs. The results showed that the harder and longer the handshakes, the greater the transmission levels (see chart below).
The main study author, Dr. Dave Whitworth, acknowledged that a physical greeting seems to part of the human condition:
You can’t really imagine a world where people don’t greet each other physically… It seems to be a basic human need.
The study, published in the American Journal of Infection Control, recommended the fist bump as a healthier alternative the handshake:
Adoption of the fist bump as a greeting could substantially reduce the transmission of infectious disease between individuals.
This study was in response to recent advice published in the Journal of the American Medical Association to ban the handshake from the healthcare setting. Because “hands of health care workers often serve as vectors for transmission of organisms and disease,” the authors of the article recommended a handshake-free zone in hospitals to protect the health of patients and healthcare workers.