Bump It to Reduce Germs

Fist bump transferred fewer germs than shaking hands

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) A handshake is one of the most common greetings used when meeting someone for the first time or saying hello to an old friend. But other greetings may transfer fewer disease-causing bacteria.

Researchers in the UK tested the spread of germs associated with handshakes and other common greetings. Their study found that the fist bump was the most hygienic form of greeting that still retained physical contact.

"Fist bump to cut down on hand-to-hand spread of bacteria."

The study was conducted by Sara Mela, BSc, and David Whitworth, PhD, both of the Institute of Biological, Environmental, and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University in Ceredigion, UK.

The researchers tested the spread of germs associated with handshakes, high fives and fist bumps.

The team had a person wearing a sterile glove go through the greetings with a gloved recipient. The researchers then determined the bacteria level on the glove.

To measure hand-to-hand contact, the study authors sprayed one participant's hand with paint. Then, they observed the paint transfer to the other person’s glove.

To set a baseline, the researchers found that a typical handshake transfers 1.24 x 108 CFUs, or colony-forming units, of bacteria. A high five transferred around 50 percent of that amount of bacteria. A fist bump transferred close to 5 percent of the bacteria associated with a handshake.

The authors also found that the amount of bacteria transferred increased with the amount of contact. A strong handshake transferred more bacteria than a moderate handshake or prolonged high five, for example.

“Adoption of the fist bump as a greeting could substantially reduce the transmission of infectious diseases between individuals,” Dr. Whitworth said in a press release. “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.”

The fist bump has been in the news lately. On July 10, President Barack Obama employed the greeting in an exchange with Daniel Webb, who was working when the commander in chief stopped for a bite at Franklin Barbecue on a trip to Austin, TX.

The study appeared in the August issue of the American Journal of Infection Control. The authors did not report any conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
July 29, 2014
Last Updated:
July 30, 2014