The gesture of shaking hands plays a central role in our daily life. We shake hands with people we know and those we don’t. A handshake serves to communicate our personality and mood to others and we use it as an acceptable way to seal deals in infinite situations.
But if you stop shaking hands for a moment and take a close look at the science behind this gesture , you may not see it as as nice as you thought. This is in part because the human body contains many different types of bacteria. Some are good and we trust them to help us stay healthy. Others are not so good and can make us sick.
We constantly gain and lose bacteria, so we are never sure when we can get an infection. Surfaces act as a transmission route for bacteria, and every time we touch one, these microbes pass through without realizing it. This is the reason why the risk of contracting an infectious disease increases in places like toilets . But have you ever thought about what bacteria you share when you shake hands with someone?
The power of a handshake
According to a study by the University of Colorado, on our hands there are an average of 3,200 bacteria from 150 different species . And yet shaking hands can be an everyday occurrence. It is considered an accepted way to greet people and is the epitome of courtesy in various cultures, especially in the western world. It is also used to build a good relationship and build trust with people. In fact, ignoring a handshake is considered rude and rude.
Various investigations have shown that throughout our lives we will shake hands about 15,000 times . Therefore, there are many opportunities to spread bacteria among people, particularly if they carry potentially infectious bacteria that can make us sick. This includes faeces, whose presence is quite common in our hands .
This risk increases even more when we don’t wash our hands regularly, so good hand hygiene is essential . And, of course, if bacteria are resistant to antibiotics, we could unknowingly play a role in spreading antibiotic resistance into the environment.
Better, clash fists
Some hospitals are so concerned about the spread of germs through shaking hands that they propose creating handshake-free zones. Good hand hygiene and regular washing are often very low in hospitals . And infections acquired in these facilities are a great concern in health institutions.
Spaces in hospitals are regularly monitored to detect the presence of potentially infectious agents that patients may acquire during their stay. Intensive care wards and those with vulnerable patients (such as the very young, the elderly, and the immunocompromised) are especially important because these types of patients are more likely to get serious infections.
Therefore, research conducted in neonatal intensive care rooms, where sick newborn babies are cared for, explores the possibility of creating handshake-free zones . Some hospitals have conducted tests to discourage handshakes and actively encourage alternative greetings, such as fists, smiles, and eye contact , to try to reduce the spread of infectious agents among people.
But it’s not limited to a fist bump: There are many different ways to say hello around the world, and you don’t have to look far to find “healthier” ways to say hello. For example, the traditional New Zealand Maori greeting is rubbing their nose and forehead, and the Japanese wave simply by waving their hand, without contact. There are also greetings like hand or fist bumping, commonly used by young people in the western world.
Science has shown that twice as many bacteria are transmitted through a handshake compared to the amount we pass by colliding our hands . The number is also significantly less when we clash our fists. This is mainly due to the difference in the surface areas that are in contact with each other, regardless of the duration of the greeting and the amount of bacteria on the hand of the person initiating the greeting.
So can you replace the traditional handshake with more diverse and healthier alternatives? It is something that, if it happens, will take time. But with that said, as awareness of infectious diseases grows and people actively try to reduce its spread, there may be a future where we all clash fists instead of shaking hands. Or at least we acquire more hygienic habits