Let’s not get handsy about it

It’s the first week of semester and O-week has passed. It’s likely in that time, you shook a lot of hands and may continue to do so for the beginning of the year.

The very true fact is that hands are carriers of germs. We shake hands, we spread disease. Touch a surface where some influenza virus is chilling (bench, toilet door handle, bus handle, display chairs, outdoor tables, I could go on) then rub your eyes or eat your lunch, you’re likely infected. Shaking hands are really quite intimate. Everyone has a unique microbiota that exists on their skin and shaking hands introduces their personal bacteria into your palm. An exchange of hand germs might sound romantic but with the majority of millennials now bringing their phones with them while they poop, I wonder whether getting diarrhoea from a handshake is now a possibility too. Cue the fist bump: popularised by an American baseball player in the 1950s who specifically did so to avoid picking up germs because he was catching a ton of colds from shaking thousands of hands every year (#firstworldproblems amirite).

Hand hygiene is serious business in healthcare. So much so, scientists have participated in experiments to observe how much germs can be transferred when shaking hands, fist bumping or the high five. This originated from a study that recommended handshaking be banned completely. Shaking hands were found to transmit 2 times more bacteria than high fives and 10 times more bacteria than bumping fists. In healthcare, being wary of hands is warranted as simple infections can easily become fatal when one warm gesture to a vulnerable patient can pass on something sinister, worst yet if a healthcare worker has unknowingly picked up superbugs groomed from the very environment they exist in.

In the opinion of an unamused doctor, fist bumps are a “Stupid idea. Wash your hands.” Everyone can carry on shaking hands or bumping fists; whatever suits your hypochondriac tendencies as long as you wash them. Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, a renowned infection control expert from UNSW also detests fist bumping in healthcare, thinks it’s banal, misguided and potentially dissuades from the real issue that is making sure hands are washed properly. Besides that, Professor McLaws tells me that shaking hands were possibly a custom practiced by Knights of the Round Table as a show of peace and they had put their swords aside.

The germs a hand can pick up outside of a hospital are typically not so dire so I suppose shaking hands keeps to a noble and ancient tradition. But as much as I’d like to believe we are all knights of the 21st Century as some are on the internet, I know I wash my hands to the tune of twinkle little stars but do I know you wash your hands making soapy bubbles in the sink?

Since I don’t, I’d still really prefer we just touch knuckles because its transitional weather right now, winter is coming and if you’re a lazy hand washer, then at least you’re only giving me a tenth of the bacteria than normally would happen.



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