Is it time to stop shaking hands

The traditional handshake has been around for a long time. According to Wikipedia, the first documented handshake on human history can be seen on the monument of Kalhu, where it shows the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III and Marduk-zakir-sumi I of Babylon shaking hands. However, handshakes can be a terrific way to pass germs. Although we are all taught to properly wash our hands, I think many of us are guilty of not doing it correctly or often enough. In case you forget, I am including the proper hand washing technique at the bottom of the article.
The curious part of me has always wondered if there is a better way of greeting a person that reduces the spread of germs. So I was pleasantly surprised to see a new study from Dr. Dave Whitworth and colleagues looking precisely at this issue. The authors used rubber gloves covered with a thick layer of E. coli. They exchanged handshakes, high fives, and fist bumps. The found that fist-bumps had a reduction of bacterial transmission by 90% when compared to traditional handshake. Even giving high-fives reduced bacterial transmission by over 50% than the traditional handshake.
So the question is should we stop shaking hands and start fist bumping everyone? I think my Infectious Disease colleagues might be very happy with such action. So who wants to start the fist bumping movement with me?

Proper hand washing technique

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.


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Sean Hashmi MD
Articles: 56

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