How germy is a handshake? A new study reports

In a new study, a team of US researchers probed the fine art of the handshake to find out how germy it really is. Turns out, it's not so bad, according to the study.

Scientists from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health looked at the risks of passing along heavyweight bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) through shaking hundreds of hands at graduation ceremonies across Maryland in the US. To get their data, they swabbed graduates' hands before and immediately following the ceremony to identify any pathogenic bacteria lurking on their palms. They found that 93 percent of samples contained nonpathogenic bacteria.

"A single handshake offers only a small risk of acquiring harmful bacteria," said researcher Dr. David Bishai in a release. The study compared its results to another of health workers caring for patients, who were found to be at a 17 percent risk of contracting dangerous germs through shaking the hands of patients known to be contaminated with MRSA. The reason? Besides the healthcare setting, which carries more risk for exposure to pathogens, the researchers think the grads engaged in briefer, less-extensive handshakes. Also, they add that subsequent handshakes might remove pathogens passed on in an earlier handshake.

Their results, published online May 11, will appear in the June issue of the Journal of School Nursing.

Still, experts say shaking hands carries risks of catching germs. "Eighty percent of all infectious diseases are transmitted by contact both direct and indirect - direct such as kissing, indirect such as shaking someone's hand," said Dr. Philip M. Tierno Jr., director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University Medical Center, in an interview with health website WebMD.

The best solution: don't avoid the social norm of shaking hands but practice good hand hygiene by washing your hands regularly with soap and water. "If you eat or drink something without washing your hands, or if you touch your own nose, mouth, or eyes after shaking someone's hand, you can introduce whatever germ was on their hand, and now your hand, into the portals of your body," added Tierno.

Access the new study's abstract: http://jsn.sagepub.com/content/27/3/219

Read more handshake health tips: http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=50382

 

 

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