Nurses might want to consider avoiding shaking hands with patients during flu outbreaks or in other infection control situations, after a UK study found a handshake transferred more bacteria than similar forms of greeting.
Aberystwyth University researchers wearing rubber gloves dipped their hands in E. coli before exchanging handshakes, high fives and fist-bumps.
Nearly twice as many bacteria were transferred during a handshake compared with a high five, and nearly 10 times as much for the fist-bump. A stronger handshake also increased the amount of bacteria shared.
“People rarely think about the health implications of shaking hands”
The researchers suggested the hygienic nature of the fist-bump may be due in part to it being typically much quicker than a handshake and because a smaller skin area is involved.
The study was inspired by an increase in measures to promote cleanliness in the workplace, such as hand-sanitizers and keyboard disinfectants.
The authors noted that previous studies on patient experience had specifically encouraged health professionals to offer handshakes to meet expectations and to develop a rapport.
Writing in the American Journal of Infection Control, they said: “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.”
Lead study author Dr Dave Whitworth added: “People rarely think about the health implications of shaking hands.”