Humans are big on ritualistic touching. It’s an integral part of cultural exchanges throughout the world.
The traditional hongi greeting of the New Zealand Maori people involves pressing noses and foreheads together. In Botswana they lightly graze palms and fingers. In the U.S. we pat heads, offer high-fives, or connect with a pound hug (a one-armed “man” hug with a back slap). We’ve even been known to pat a bum or two. But the majority of the time, we shake hands.
Turns out, a handshake is FAR MORE LIKELY to spread bacteria. In fact, a handshake is about the grossest G-rated thing you can do with another person!
Scientists at Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom recently conducted a study that compared how easily bugs migrate via a classic handshake, a high-five, and a knuckle-to-knuckle knock (or a “dap,” as the study calls it). It concluded that fist-bumps transfer 90% fewer germs than a handshake—followed by a “prolonged” fist-bump, then a high-five, and then a prolonged high-five. The handshake was the germiest. Why? It necessitates more flesh-to-flesh contact and lasts longer. Resesarch also showed that a firm grip spreads more than twice the number of bacteria than a “moderate handshake.” So the stronger your grip, the more germs you spread!
“People rarely think about the health implications of shaking hands,” says study lead Dave Whitworth, who was
inspired by increased measures to promote cleanliness in the workplace. “If the general public could be encouraged to fist-bump, there is genuine potential to reduce the spread of infectious disease.”
The study is of particular interest to healthcare providers, whose hands can spread potentially harmful germs to patients—and that can lead to healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs). HAIs are a leading cause of preventable harm and death in the U.S. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that one in 25 hospitalized patients develops an HAI and 75,000 patients with HAIs die during their hospitalization each year. It’s unlikely we’ll see a lot of fist-bumping or high-fiving in hospitals anytime soon, but handshakes must be followed by effective handwashing!
Whether you call lit a dap, a fist-pound, or a fist-bump (our preference), this greeting is now being used by cool people everywhere—including President and Mrs. Obama, who popularized it during the 2008 Presidential campaign—because it’s the safest all of the ritualistic touching ways to exchange pleasantries. And if you think a fist-bump is strictly for the Obamas (or bromances, for that matter), think again: The Journal of the American Medical Association has called for a ban on handshakes in healthcare settings, recommending a fist-bump instead.
It’s germy world out there. So let up on that grip, champ. Grab our poster. Display it proudly. And spread the word (not the germs): Do the fist-bump!