Want to avoid the common cold? Some doctors are urging “fist bumps” instead of handshakes as a way to prevent the spread of sicknesses.
Of course the handshake is one of humanity’s oldest greetings, purportedly started to prove you weren’t holding a weapon. An entire culture has grown around the handshake, with some imagining that you can take the measure of a person by his handshake. It has also come to signify honorable, adult contact and common courtesy.
However, a handshake is also a very direct contact with another person and it is this threat of the sweaty, oft-used palm that can easily spread all sorts of pathogens from person to person that doctors are warning against.
“My informal policy is if you’re sick, I don’t shake your hand, but there’s not a formal policy here,” Dr. Brad Jones, a doctor in Irving, Texas, told the Dallas-Fort Worth CBS affiliate.
Dr. Jones is not alone. The Journal of the American Medical Association recently suggested that healthcare workers should do away with the handshake in dealings with patients.
“[T]he hands of health care workers often serve as vectors for transmission of organisms and disease. Health care workers’ hands become contaminated with pathogens from their patients, and, despite efforts to limit the spread of disease, cross-contamination of health care workers’ hands commonly occurs through routine patient and environmental contact… hand-related transmission of organisms in the health care setting can contribute to the burden of antimicrobial resistance,” the JAMA wrote on May 15.
In its discussion of the medical drawbacks of a handshake, the JAMA notes that even a fist bump is better medically speaking. “Bacterial cross-contamination of volunteers through handshaking has been found to be more likely than with ‘fist bumping’ on a surgical ward,” the article states.
In 2013 there was even a pilot study on replacing the handshake with a fist bump in the medical field.
The JAMA does admit that the handshake holds important cultural meaning, but the group feels that the medical efficacy of a ban on handshakes outweighs the handshake’s social benefits.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.