Fist bumping: the more hygienic way to say hello

Published on July 30, 2014

Fist bumping may do more than just keep it cool. A new study finds the casual greeting is substantially more hygienic than shaking hands.

In a lab at Aberystwyth University, researchers dipped a gloved hand in bacteria, and then exchanged a handshake, high five, or fist bump with another. They then counted the number of bacteria that had been transferred during the greeting.

The researchers found that a high-five transfers half as many bacteria as a handshake and a fist-bump transfers 90 per cent fewer bacteria than a handshake.

Although a firm handshake may be revered by some, researchers also found that more bacteria were transferred the longer and firmer the handshake was.

“Under certain circumstances, people should really think twice before shaking hands with other people, particularly within the healthcare context,” said Dave Whitworth, co-author of the study, in a statement.

“People rarely think about the health implications of shaking hands. If the general public could be encouraged to fist-bump, there is genuine potential to reduce the spread of infectious diseases.”

But be careful of jumping on the fist-bumping bandwagon.

According to local etiquette coach Michelle Snow, a handshake is still the best way to greet someone in a professional environment.

“The handshake has really become that universal introduction. It also conveys some level of trust or relationship between people,” said Snow.

“That sort of understanding of that gesture has been built over a very long history and I don’t think the fist bump is going to replace that any time soon.”

“I certainly wouldn’t recommend that someone use a fist bump, particularly if you’re meeting someone for the first time,” she said.

“I know we have seen images of (U.S. President) Barack Obama using the fist bump, but when you think about his position and the formality that comes with the office of the president, I think his use of the fist bump is a way to make people feel a little bit more comfortable with the formality that surrounds him. Him using it is a very different gesture than you or I using it with a person that we’re meeting for the first time, or someone that we’re having a business transaction with.”

In addition, if you are concerned about spreading germs with a handshake, Snow says the best approach is to simply be upfront with people.

“I often get asked by people what do I do if I’m feeling ill or I don’t wish to shake somebody’s hand, “ she said. “My advice is if someone’s offering you their hand in the gesture of a handshake and you really are not comfortable with returning that gesture. I always encourage people to be very frank and upfront, and indicate, ‘I’m not going to shake your hand right now because I’m feeling a little under the weather.’

“Most people, when you acknowledge that are very understanding and simply move on, rather than leaving someone hanging in midair, which is conveying probably not the message that you want.”

The study was published in the American Journal of Infection Control on Monday.