In June, the well-respected Journal of the American Medical Association published an article that proposed "Banning the Handshake From the Health Care Setting."
Given the problem with hand hygiene and transmission of infections in hospitals, this isn't as far-fetched as it sounds.
But I bet the authors of the JAMA article didn't realize that another study, to be published in August in the American Journal of Infection Control, would take their proposal to the next level.
The newer piece concludes that “fist bumping” -- the gesture made popular by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama during the 2012 election campaign -- transmits significantly fewer bacteria than a handshake or a high-five.
Researchers from the Institute of Biological, Environmental, and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University in Wales found nearly twice as many bacteria were transferred during a handshake compared to a high-five, and significantly fewer bacteria were transferred during a fist bump than a high-five.
“Adoption of the fist bump as a greeting could substantially reduce the transmission of infectious diseases between individuals,” said author David Whitworth. “It is unlikely that a no-contact greeting could supplant the handshake; however, for the sake of improving public health we encourage further adoption of the fist bump as a simple, free, and more hygienic alternative to the handshake.”
I won't hold my breath until this change of habit takes place. But any reminder that we should be more careful about transmitting germs in the hospital is welcome.
The hands of health-care providers frequently spread potentially harmful germs to patients, leading to "health-care associated infections," among the leading causes of preventable harm and death in the United States.