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Don't Shake on It: A Fist Bump Is Less Germy

Fist bumping

Manners maven Emily Post probably would have disapproved, but British researchers say if you want to protect yourself against germs, you should pass on the traditional handshake and instead exchange a fist bump, especially with your doctor.

Scientists with Aberystwyth University in Wales wanted to see how doctors could reduce the spread of bacteria, so they tested three types of  hand-to-hand greetings to see which one transferred the fewest germs: a handshake, a high five or the sort of knuckle-to-knuckle fist bump that Barack Obama and his wife exchanged when he accepted the Democratic nomination in June 2008. Or the Dalai Lama when he met the mayor of Memphis in 2009.

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And the winner: A fist bump transferred much fewer germs than grasping your companion's sweaty palm and shaking it. According to the study, fist bumps are 20 times more hygienic than handshakes and 10 times cleaner than high-fives. In addition, strong, firm handshakes, or the ones that go on just littttle bit too long, "were further associated with increased bacterial transmission."

Switching to the fist bump as a greeting "could substantially reduce the transmission of infectious diseases between individuals," study coauthor David Whitworth said in a statement.

The study, published in the August issue of the American Journal of Infection Control, expands on a June editorial in the Journal of American Medical Association calling for a ban on handshakes in hospitals and other health care settings to "help limit the spread of disease."

But replacing the handshake with the fist bump doesn't really make sense, at least one expert said. "Rather than replace the handshake with something else that has contact, probably the better approach to keep patients safe is really not to do it at all," Mary Lou Manning, an infection specialist at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and president-elect of the Association of Professionals in Infection Control, told NBC News.

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Skipping a handshake with your doctor might be understandable, but just try fist-bumping your next job interviewer or friends and relatives at the next wedding reception line. And then explain it's because you just don't want to get any of their nasty germs. See how that goes over.

On the other hand, you could just bring a little bottle of hand sanitizer with you.

Photo: Huntstock_Images/iStock


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