Should Fist-Bumps Replace Handshakes in Hospitals?

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Should Fist-Bumps Replace Handshakes in Hospitals?

The Illnesses on your germy hands

By Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN
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All of us have learned to cough and sneeze into our elbows to minimize the spread of aerosol germs. Some doctors have foresworn long neckties for similar reasons. Now, it looks like shaking hands might soon become as outdated as the record player, at least within hospitals.

Germy Handshakes

The August issue of the American Journal of Infection Control, the official publication of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, published the results of a study on the transmission of bacteria through three different forms of greeting: handshakes, fist bumps and high fives.

Unsurprisingly, the longer the contact and the firmer the grip, the greater the likelihood of transmitting germs. Nearly twice as many bacteria were transferred during a common handshake as during a high five, while a high five transmitted significantly more germs than a fist bump.

Hand Hygiene

The risk of bacterial transmission is already raising concern among doctors. An opinion column in the June 25 issue of Journal of the American Medical Association called on hospitals to ban handshakes entirely.

If hanging up “HANDSHAKE-FREE ZONE” signs seems like overkill, consider this: According to the same article, healthcare professionals’ compliance with hand-hygiene programs averages only 40 percent! That increases the risk of spreading harmful germs to patients and of causing hospital-acquired infections, one of the leading preventable causes of harm and death in the United States.

The bottom line is that handshakes (and high fives) are bad news in the clinical setting. Skip them both, whether you are a provider or a patient.  


The illnesses lurking on your hands

It’s easy to pick up germs from handrails, doorknobs and elevator buttons

William P. Sawyer, M.D., is an infection prevention expert who works with the CDC and USDA and is a founding member of the Clean Hands Coalition. In an effort to teach children the importance of handwashing and hygiene, he has launched a website called Henry the Hand. On the site, he describes the illnesses that can be transmitted through the germs on your hands:

Bacteroides can cause an ear infection
Shigella can cause diarrhea
Streptococci can cause pneumonia, strep throat, scarlet fever and toxic shock
• Hepatitis A can cause jaundice and diarrhea
E. coli can cause anemia or kidney failure
Pseudomonas can infect wounds or cause urinary tract infections
Haemophilus can cause pinkeye (highly contagious).  

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