Attention Germaphobes: A Less Icky Alternative to the Handshake

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You may think a fist bump is strictly for bromances, but it just may be the new greeting of choice for germaphobes everywhere. Turns out the fist bump is a LOT less likely than a handshake to spread bacteria from person to person, according to research just published in the American Journal of Infection Control.

For the study, scientists at Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom compared how easily bugs migrate via a classic handshake, a high-five, and knuckle-to-knuckle knock used by cool people everywhere, from former Deal or No Deal host (and germaphobe) Howie Mandel to the Obamas in the 2008 Presidential campaign.

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The big loser—or the generous oversharer, we should say—was the handshake; a high-five transferred half as much bacteria while a knuckle bump spread an impressive 90% fewer germs, likely because the latter two methods involve less skin-on-skin contact.

“The hands are a primary way that germs can be transmitted,” says Mary Lou Manning, PhD, President-Elect of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, who was not part of the study. “When I shake your hand, you don’t know where my hand has been, and I don’t know where your hand has been,” Dr. Manning wrote in an email. “All sorts of bacteria and viruses—from the germs that cause the common cold to the ones that lead to superbug infections—can be spread this way.”

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Still, unless you work on a baseball diamond like Derek Jeter, a fist bump isn’t the most natural move in professional settings. So if you can’t see yourself bringing a knuckle near that new client, consider sticking with a hearty hello.

But there are times where a fist bump would be wise. As David Whitworth, PhD, lead researcher on this study concludes: “People should think twice about shaking hands, particularly in sensitive situations like within the healthcare context but also when flu epidemics are happening.” Agreed! But how about if we DON’T shake on it?

RELATED: 10 Ways You May Put Yourself at Risk for Flu

Lisa Lombardi is the Executive Editor of Health magazine.


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