​Faith Salie says "get a grip" over spread of germs

All our holiday socializing could have a downside . . . in the opinion of our contributor Faith Salie:

It's about time we get a grip on the handshake. Yes, that ubiquitous, courteous, egalitarian gesture. Politicians, athletes and businesspeople alike depend on it to demonstrate trust and respect.

But in the wrong hands, affection can become infection.

Shaking hands is a pretty good way to get yourself sick, not necessarily with Ebola, but with a million other germs that can cause colds and flu.

The custom of clasping hands is thought to date back thousands of years, as proof of not holding any weapons. However, when you shake someone's hand, you may be bearing -- or receiving -- a different kind of weapon: germs.

We can all give a healthy high-five to Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis. In 1847, he figured out the link between clean hands and healthy patients.

Back then, his call for hand-washing was radical, even offensive, to doctors. Yet apparently it still hasn't totally caught on. Research shows that today's hand-washing rate in hospitals hovers around 40 percent.

Yes, you can keep yourself as hale as possible by washing your hands, but are you really doing it right? Did you know you're supposed to soap and scrub for as long as it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice?

Then there's the problem of making a clean escape. If you grasp the bathroom door handle to exit without using a paper towel, you're right back where you started, with who-knows-whose germs on your hands.

A recent study found that "It takes just a few hours for viruses to spread from a single doorknob to up to 60 percent of the surfaces in a building."

Like this chair I'm sitting in ...?

In light of what we now know about the transmittal of germs, the genteel handshake seems ironically barbaric.

So, what do we do?

On the one hand, it may well be time to bring back the bow and curtsy. Maybe hand-kissing whilst wearing long gloves? Very swoony! There's winking. Super hygienic, but potentially confusing, say, on a job interview.

The truth is, we all really want to reach out and touch someone.

Problem solved: According to the American Journal of Infection Control, fist bumps transfer about 90 percent less bacteria than handshakes.

fist-bump-620-173199714.jpg
Catcher Wilin Rosario gives a fist bump to Josh Outman of the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field, July 4, 2013 in Denver, Colorado.
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

So, instead of "Hi, Jean!" make it hygiene!

Not to mention how cool you'll feel doing it.


More from Faith Salie:


For more info: