Handshakes get the 'bump' to avoid colds and flu


Dr. Jen Tan
@AVogelUK
Ask Dr. Jen Tan


05 August 2014

The importance of the handshake

British etiquette is a myriad of social expectations ranging from the correct way to queue, the correct way to eat garden peas and the correct way to self-deprecate. It defines our culture, determines whether we will be successful in a job interview and influences whether or not we will be invited out for dinner again. British etiquette is an all-encompassing code of living. And now it is being contested.

At the heart of Britishness must surely lie the handshake – not the ‘wet fish’ sloppy and weak handshake, nor the ‘bone crusher’ hand-squeezing competition; not the uncomfortable ‘finger vice’ when your fingers are grabbed but not your entire hand, nor the over-enthusiastic ‘hand-hug’ when the second hand covers yours; instead, the firm, confident, two-stroke up-and-down handshake, with eye contact, clean fingernails and absolutely no sweaty palms.

But this form of greeting is under threat...

Handshakes threatened by the friendly fist-bump

Science is now telling us that instead of partaking in a good old handshake, we should adopt the more casual, informal high-five or fist-bump. Apparently, this lessens the spread of germs, bacteria and viruses by up to 90%, thus reducing the spread of the flu.

It is true that flu and cold viruses are most effectively spread through hand-to-hand contact, and with germs staying alive and active on the hand for three hours after contamination, it is easy for you to scratch your nose, allowing the bacteria or virus to fully enter your system, bringing you down with the much-dreaded cold or flu.

With the fist bump exposing less skin-to-skin contact, fewer germs can be transferred from person to person. Not only this, but as it is a briefer, less firm form of greeting, the germs are given little opportunity to spread.

How else are germs spread?

There are many other ways in which germs can be spread, some of which we tend to overlook:

  • The average computer mouse is three times dirtier than a toilet seat
  • Cold viruses can linger on bank notes for 17 days
  • 96% of doormats contain traces of faecal bacteria, which are then carried into your house when walked over
  • The seal on your refrigerator has an 86% chance of infecting you with the common cold
  • Germs can last for 18 hours on a restaurant menu. Just think how many people touch them every day. So before lying the menu down on top of your plate…

With all this knowledge about germs at our fingertips, it does encourage us to wash our hands thoroughly and often, and to perhaps give our friends, colleagues and family the cold shoulder.

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