According to a new study, a handshake transfers more bacteria than other forms of hand-on-hand action.
Scientists at Aberystwyth University in Wales are calling for the widespread adoption of the fist bump instead, especially during flu outbreaks.
Public Health England whimsically suggested a Victorian-age bow or curtsy would be even safer.
A handshake transfers more bacteria than other forms of hand-on-hand action
The researchers took a pair of sterile rubber gloves and dipped one into a bacterial-broth so the outside was completely coated in E. coli.
They then performed a range of hand maneuvers including handshakes of varying intensities, fist bumps and high-fives.
The findings, published in the American Journal of Infection Control, showed a handshake transferred 10 times as many bacteria as a meeting of fists, while a palm-to-palm high-five was somewhere in-between.
It is thought the smaller area of contact and shorter duration in the bump reduced the spread of bacteria.
It is not the first time the argument has been raised. There have been calls in the Journal of the American Medical Association to ban handshakes from hospitals.
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New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has declared a public health emergency because of the severity of this year’s influenza season.
The order makes vaccinations more accessible and allows pharmacists to administer vaccines to children.
Almost 20,000 cases of flu have been reported in New York state so far this season – more than four times the number of cases last winter.
The flu outbreak has reached epidemic proportions across the US.
Last week 7.3% of US deaths were caused by pneumonia and the flu, just above epidemic threshold, said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Flu activity was widespread in 47 states, up from 41 the week before.
Experts recommend flu vaccines, which have been found to be 62% effective.
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has declared a public health emergency because of the severity of this year’s influenza season
The 2012-13 flu season is said to have started earlier than usual, with many cases of the H3N2 strain, which can be severe.
Some analysts say the latest numbers suggest the worst of the season may have passed.
The only states without widespread flu were California, Hawaii and Mississippi.
Flu symptoms can include fever, cough, runny nose, body ache and fatigue.
Severe cases could see vomiting and diarrhoea or develop into pneumonia. Many cases are much milder.
Scientists who created a mutant bird flu, a potentially more deadly strain, have temporarily stopped their research amid fears of bioterrorism.
In a letter published in Science and Nature, the scientists call for an “international forum” to debate the risks and value of the studies.
US authorities last month asked the authors of the research to redact key details in forthcoming publications.
A government advisory panel suggested the data could be used by terrorists.
Biosecurity experts fear a mutant form of the virus could spark a pandemic deadlier than the 1918-19 Spanish flu outbreak that killed up to 40 million people.
The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) recommended key details to be omitted from publication of the research, which sparked international furor.
“I would have preferred if this hadn’t caused so much controversy, but it has happened and we can’t change that,” Ron Fouchier, a researcher from Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, told Science Insider.
“So I think it’s the right step to make.”
While bird flu is deadly, its reach has been limited because it is not transmissible between humans.
However, the H5N1 flu virus was altered to be passed easily between ferrets, during the joint research by Erasmus University in the Netherlands and the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US.
Two scientific journals want to publish the research – albeit in redacted form – and are trying to work out with the US government how to make the data accessible to “responsible scientists”.
H5N1 flu virus was altered to be passed easily between ferrets, during the joint research by Erasmus University in the Netherlands and the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US
The World Health Organization said in a December statement that limiting access to the research would harm an agreement between its members.
The NSABB is made up of scientists and public health experts, 23 from outside the government, and 18 from within.
It cannot stop publication but makes recommendations to researchers.
The scientists’ letter published on Friday argues that knowledge of more infectious strains before they mutate in nature is valuable for public health.
“More research is needed to determine how influenza viruses in nature become human pandemic threats,” the statement says, “so that they can be contained before they acquire the ability to transmit from human to human, or so that appropriate countermeasures can be deployed if adaptation to humans occurs.”
But some said the pause on research was not enough.
One critic of the studies, Richard Ebright, a biologist at Rutgers University, told Science Insider that the letter “includes flatly false statements” making assurances about the safety of H1N1 research labs.
Reports say that a meeting debating the research and steps forward could come during a World Health Organization meeting in February.