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Don't shake hands with patients during flu outbreak, study suggests


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”

Dave Whitworth

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.”



Readers' comments (3)

  • Ellen Watters

    I'd love to see nurses and patients, and doctors fist bump as a way of greeting..:)

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  • If I went for a hospital appointment and anyone tried to 'fist bump' or 'high five' me I and most adults over the age of 40 would probably wonder what had happened to the world!

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  • More ridiculous drivel... perhaps we should just stop touching patients in way at all??!

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