For eons, humans have used the handshake to indicate a friendly greeting. In modern times, however, epidemic diseases, MRSA, and antibiotic resistance makes me wonder if this time-honored tradition might be hazardous to our health? For that reason, I am proposing a new way that will give greater protection while still indicating good intentions: the fist bump!
The fist bump gained viral video status when President Obama and his wife Michelle performed it at a speech in 2008. Since then, young folk have incorporated into their repertoire, replacing the high five as a symbol of “nice work” or “you da bomb”. Little did they know that they might have decreased their risk of contracting contagious disease as a result.
Let’s face it, a handshake is a pretty dirty way to initiate contact with another person. Few people wash their hands as often as they should. A study at West Virginia University shows that people who do wash their hands regularly still might retain 20% of germs.
We handle all sorts of questionable stuff over the course of the day, and worse, we usually touch our faces afterward. This is a great way to get germs into our system through our mouth, nose, and eyes. If you don’t think this happens very often, just observe a member of your family for 30 minutes and count the times they touch their face; you’ll be surprised just how often this happens.
Don’t take my word for it: Researchers in the U.S. and Great Britain systematically tested handshakes, high fives, and fist bumps for the chance of causing infections. They dipped gloved hands into a solution containing bacteria called E. Coli and then tested for the quantity transmitted during each greeting method.
It turns out that shaking hands transfers 10-20 times the number of organisms than a fist bump. A high five transfers just about half the germs. Handshakes cover 3 times more surface area of contact and last almost 3 times longer. This is hard data that proves the fist bump is the safest way to say “Howdy” or “Wuzup” to your family and friends.
In addition, the parts of the hand that contact another in a fist bump are the backs of your fingers, parts much more rarely used to touch your face than the tips of your fingers. A smaller area of your hand is involved, as well.
Even better in preventing contact is not touching the other person at all during a greeting, but this can be awkward and perhaps best used as a policy for hospital workers and those working in epidemic areas.
Therefore, I am establishing what I call the “Fist Bump Initiative” or FBI. In good times or bad, physical contact is an important way to convey good intent to those you meet, and the fist bump allows you to do this while minimizing the chances of contracting infectious diseases.
Try a day of fist bumping and you’ll find that, after a while, you’ll get used to it and maybe even find creative ways to “bump” your buddies that are a heckuva lot more fun than a regular old handshake.
It’s important to note that the fist bump isn’t the only way to decrease the chance of transmitting infections. Regular hand washing will always be the best way to stay healthy. Teach your kids from an early age to incorporate it into their daily routine.
Joe Alton, MD
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