Less shaking, more bumping – the case for a cleaner greeting

Less shaking

Do you shake hands a lot? For work? Socially? It’s time to consider changing your greeting to a much funkier fist bump, or if that seems too casual perhaps you’d like to attempt a curtsy or bow, Victorian style.

There is a current in the United Kingdom promoting cleanliness in the workspace (especially in hospitals), which is why Dr. Dave Whitworth, from Aberystwyth University, decided to carry out a research to compare how many germs are transferred with various hand greetings. The procedure was simple: Dr. Whitworth and PhD student Sara Mela dipped a few sterile gloves in a thick Escherichia coli broth (this is the bacteria that causes diarrhea, UTIs and respiratory illness), and one of them used the gloves to shake hands, fist bump and high five while the other one wore clean gloves. The gloves that were not so clean anymore were tested for the bacteria, and the results will be published in the August issue of the American Journal of Infection Control.

But you want to know now, don’t you?

Very well: Dr. Whitworth and Ms. Mela discovered that the old-school handshake was the worst offender when it comes to transmitting bacteria – and the stronger the handshake, the greater the contamination.

The more enthusiastic (and less formal) high five reduced the bacterial transmission by a cool 50%, but it was still not great. So who’s the winner? What the Obamas didn’t know when they famously fist bumped in 2008 was that they were also setting the standard for the cleanest greeting: the greeting also known as dap, pound, fist pound, brofist, donsafe, spudding, fo' knucks, box, Bust, pound dogg, props, Bones, respect knuckles, bumping the rock, or knuckle crunching transmitted only 10% of the germs that would have been passed in a more orthodox handshake.

The researchers suppose that the reason for the fist bump’s superiority is that it has a much smaller contact surface, and it is much faster than a 2- or 3-pump handshake.  "People rarely think about the health implications of shaking hands," said Dr. Whitworth. "If the general public could be encouraged to fist bump, there is genuine potential to reduce the spread of infectious diseases."

So if you’re worried about germs (and you should be!), become a trend setter and start fist bumping your way around the office. It’s good enough for the President of the United States! And if handshakes are unavoidable, remember to wash your hands and use plenty of hand sanitizer.