Fist-bumps, high-fives more hygienic than handshakes

A new study in the American Journal of Infection Control provides further evidence that fist-bumps are a more hygienic alternative to handshakes or high-fives in a healthcare setting.

Dave Whitworth, Ph.D, of Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom, and Ph.D student Sara Mela, tested the infectious potential of three greeting methods--handshakes, high-fives and fist-bumps--with a glove dipped in a bacterial broth and found the highest bacterial transfer during the handshake. The transfer level fell by more than half for a high-five and by a full 90 percent for a fist-bump.

To account for the typically longer duration of a handshake than the other greetings, the researchers repeated the trials, prolonging each option for three seconds. This minimally affected the risk of transfer for high-fives, but significantly increased the risk for fist-bumps, according to the study. Similarly, researchers found bacterial transfer risk increased with grip pressure. 

"People rarely think about the health implications of shaking hands," Whitworth said in a statement from the university. "If the general public could be encouraged to fist-bump, there is genuine potential to reduce the spread of infectious diseases."

The research echoes a similar 2013 study that found bacterial transfer was four times higher among healthcare workers who shook hands than among those who used fist-bumps. Like Whitworth and Mela, the researchers attributed the increased risk to greater exposed surface area and longer contact time, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

However, some healthcare professionals argue that switching over from handshakes isn't worth the potential cost to interpersonal interactions, especially since many of the risks associated with handshakes could be reduced with proper hand-washing protocol.

To learn more:
- read the study abstract (.pdf)
- here's the statement