Elbow bump safer than handshake? What flu-wary biologist says

elbow bump, stock, 4x3 Wikimedia Commons

elbow bump, 4x3
Wikimedia Commons

(CBS) Is the handshake about to go the way of the Dodo bird?

Concern over the spread of colds, influenza, and other illnesses that spread via skin-to-skin contact has some health experts recommending that we shun the traditional handshake and adopt a "safe shake" like bowing or touching elbows.

"Certainly this would help to decrease the spread of some infectious agents in the same way that sneezing into an elbow, rather than in a hand, does," Dr. Nathan Wolfe, professor of human biology at Stanford University, said in the Sunday Times, according to the Daily Mail.

Is the good doctor crying wolf? Maybe not. It's clear that germy hands can spread colds and flu, and in a 2010 survey conducted by the popular hand sanitizer Purell, 55 percent of Americans said they would rather touch a public toilet seat than shake the hand of someone who had coughed or sneezed into it.

The survey also showed that four out of five Americans agreed that handshaking is less common now than 25 years ago - and that roughly half of Americans have chosen to use a fist bump for reasons including a fear of germs.

But would universal safe-shaking really be effective? Most experts think flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets released when people with flu cough, sneeze, or talk. But the droplets can land in the noses and mouths of people up to six feet away.

Maybe that's why the CDC issues its own set of flu-preventing strategies. These include:

*Sneeze into your elbow instead of your hand.

*Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze - and throw the tissue in the trash afterward.

*Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

*wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub.

According o the CDC, there's evidence that if everyone routinely washed their hands, a million deaths could be prevented each year.

  • David W Freeman

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