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October 2017

THAT AWKWARD QUESTION: Should handshakes be banned?

Written by Nicole Horne
Hygiene and COVID-19, Cleanliness and Hygiene, Handwashing and Hand Hygiene

In the business world, handshakes occur on a daily basis as we go about greeting our co-workers, guests, clients and suppliers. It’s a behaviour that automatically takes place when we meet new people, and it’s seen as almost offensive not to extend your hand in greeting.

What I do find unpleasant though, is knowing that the person whose hand I am shaking has just sneezed into their hands, or scratched the inside of their ear… Before I know it, I’m working myself into a state and wondering when last they washed their hands! 

The digits: handshakes and your hands

Recently I came across an article in the European Cleaning Journal in which the outbreak of Norovirus was blamed on mass handshaking. This got me wondering about all the times I have contracted the flu and how it could have been caused by a simple handshake! Up to 80% of infections are spread by hands.

Furthermore, medical professionals in the USA and UK are considering banning handshakes in order to reduce hospital infections, some of which are resistant to antibiotics. Others are of opinion that it is fairly safe, as long as hands are washed frequently. 

So how do you avoid this unhygienic activity without telling someone that the reason you don’t want to shake hands is because you’re afraid of coming into contact with germs?

In light of the above, and with Global Handwashing Day around the corner, I thought it would be a good idea to find a few hygienic greetings that can replace the good old fashioned handshake; without coming across as rude.

1. The popular Fist Bump

In a 2014 study done by the Aberystwyth University in Wales, researchers found that handshaking transferred 10 times more bacteria than fist bumping. 

I definitely think Barack Obama was onto something with his infamous fist bump greeting!

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2. The Chinese greeting

Both respectful AND hygienic, the customary Chinese greeting doesn’t involve any touching, making it one of the most hygienic greetings! It involves making a fist with one hand and using your other hand to cup it, doing away with the need for hand to hand contact.

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3. The Elbow bump

A modification of the popular fist bump, the elbow bump was introduced by health officials during the avian flu scare in 2006 and gained popularity during the 2009 swine flu outbreak and the recent ebola outbreak of 2014. Its origins date back to the 1980s.

You’ve probably guessed the reason why this form of greeting became so popular; the no hand’s touching ethos.  The elbow bump, for those of you not familiar with this easy-going greeting, consists of simply touching the other person’s elbow with your own without using your hands whatsoever (the hand being the primary transport of germs).

4. The Añjali Mudrā

The traditional Indian and Southern Asian hand gesture accompanies the traditional greeting “Namaste”. It is quite similar to the traditional Chinese greeting, but both palms are pressed together and held close to the body, typically at the heart.

This greeting is terrifically hygienic, keeping the spread of germs to a minimum, as no contact is required. It also brings a more spiritual feel to greeting someone.

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5. The nod and smile 

Us South Africans are very warm and expressive people. We acknowledge others - be they strangers or acquaintances - and everyone we know by making eye contact and nodding or smiling. This way of greeting is both very welcoming and hygienic. 

So, should handshakes be banned?

While handshakes are a culprit in spreading germs, and many believe they should be banned altogether because of the transmission of bacteria and viruses that take place during handshaking; the good news is that proper hand hygiene practices help to prevent the spread of germs.

Handshaking is still a great way to greet someone; just remember to wash your hands thoroughly, especially before you touch your mouth and nose, as well as before eating.

Besides washing your hands, an effective way of ensuring good hand hygiene - especially at the office where you come in contact with a variety of germs - is making use of hand sanitiser. By keeping a bottle handy at your desk you can keep cross contamination to a minimum.

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If you are feeling ill, the best course of action is to avoid the handshake and use an alternative greeting in order to keep cross contamination to a minimum. You can download the handwashing steps here, or subscribe to our blog here to get more great hygiene insights sent to you.

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Nicole Horne

Nicole Horne

Nicole is a Digital Marketing Executive at Rentokil Initial Hygiene in Johannesburg. A self-proclaimed germaphobe, her love for hygienic environments and curiosity of all things “beneath the surface” fuels her enthusiasm for writing about the impact of germs in the workplace. She is passionate about creating awareness and sharing her knowledge on the impact of good hygiene practices. Follow Nicole on Twitter and LinkedIn for updates on the the good, the bad and the germy.

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