Germs in Shaking Hands - Do the Fist Bump | Health Blog

Date: 08/14/2014    Written by: Beth Levine

Fist Bump for Fewer Germs

how to avoid germs when shaking hands

What would your boss think if the next time you had a big meeting with important clients you walked around the conference room table fist bumping everyone in greeting rather than shaking hands? Chances are good that it wouldn't put you in line for the next promotion. But, according to new research, fist bumping just may be a whole lot more hygienic than shaking hands.

The study, which took place at Aberystwyth University -- Ceredigion in the United Kingdom, found that a much greater amount of germs appear to be spread through handshaking than through other forms of hand-to-hand greetings.1 The researchers tested three common types of acknowledgement involving the hands--handshakes, high fives, and fist bumps--to compare the amount of bacteria each would potentially spread.

After donning sterile gloves, one of the scientists on the team immersed a hand in a container of liquid chock full of a mild strain of E. coli. Once the bacteria-laden solution was dry on the glove, the researcher performed one of the hand-oriented greetings with another gloved researcher. So, for example, after performing a handshake, the formerly clean glove that was touched by the germy glove was removed and tested for the presence of bacteria. Then, the experiment was repeated for both a fist bump and a high five.

The laboratory testing revealed that handshakes were by far the greatest transmitters of germs, depositing approximately ten times the amount of E. coli on the recipient as a fist bump did. The high fives were a middle ground of germ transmission, leaving about twice the amount of bacteria behind as did the fist bumps. Plus, variations existed in the duration and grip of the greetings, with firmer handshakes spreading far more of the germs than any other method. In other words, if you're going to shake hands, limp wristed is healthier--but probably not a viable option.

The researchers then conducted a second version of the experiment that involved submerging the gloved hands into a canister of paint instead of E. coli before performing the series of hand-to-hand greetings. The point was to determine exactly where on the hand the transmission might occur. The results showed the fairly obvious point that a larger surface area of the hand made contact during the handshake, enabling more of the germ transfer. Interestingly, what mattered little was the length of time involved in the contact. Though it might seem that a longer handshake would provide more opportunity for a transfer of bacteria, the scientists found that even quick handshakes of the same duration as a fist bump or high five spread more germs than either of those greetings.

Of course, the design of the study was somewhat flawed, as most of us do not walk around with hands covered in E. coli. But still, it's not hard to imagine a significant presence on the hands of germs of all varieties, especially if we've been out making contact with others in crowded places such as a mall or on a commuter train. In fact, touching surfaces of practically any kind will probably transfer a range of bacteria right onto your hands, where they can quickly enter the body via an absentminded rub of the eye or a swipe of a crumb at the corner of the mouth. Germs are everywhere; so even if a table in a food court or fast food place looks clean, chances are good it is covered with food-associated bugs such as E.coli.2 And studies have shown that computer keyboards have 400 times more germs than a toilet seat. Touched any computer keyboards lately?

Short of never leaving home again, you probably can't avoid some level of exposure to bacteria. Keeping clean with an antibacterial product isn't the answer either, as most of these contain triclosan, a hazardous substance that potentially acts as a hormone disruptor, while at the same time promoting the growth of super germs. So, even if you're not a big fan of the fist bump or high five, you just might want to minimize the amount of handshaking you do…unless you know you will be able to wash up soon afterward with good old soap and water.

  • 1. Painter, Kim. "Study: Fist bumps are less germy than handshakes." USA Today. 28 July 2014. Accessed 6 August 2014.
  • 2. Wira Dineen, Carl. "The 8 germiest places in the mall." CNN Health. 26 November 2011. Accessed 7 August 2014.

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