Quentin Bryce Law Doctoral Scholarship
Science //

Shake it off

The haters gonna hate, but Melissa Chow still won’t shake

Have you had your Inner Health Plus today? Have you had your Inner Health Plus today?

The very true fact is that hands are carriers of germs. When we shake hands, we spread disease. Touch a surface where influenza is chilling (door handle, bus rung, Wentworth foodcourt’s sticky tabletops), then rub your eyes or eat lunch, and you’ve likely been infected.

Shaking hands is more intimate than is generally made out. Everyone has a unique microbiota that exists on their skin, making every press of the flesh a kind of perverse cultural exchange. With most millennials playing with their phones when they poo, in addition to well-wishes, diarrhoea and E. coli are likely to be passed on every time you shake hands during OWeek.

Cue: the fist-bump, popularised by an American baseball player in the 1950s who specifically employed it to avoid catching colds from the thousands of hands he shook every year.

The notion of So much so, that scientists have conducted experiments comparing how many germs are transmitted via handshakes versus fist-bumps and high-fives. Handshakes were found to transmit twice as many bacteria as high-fives, and ten times as many as fist-bumps. Other studies have recommended handshaking be banned completely in healthcare. In a hospital, a seemingly warm gesture can become a death sentence – a handshake can transmit a superbug to a vulnerable patient.

So are fist-bumps the best way to satisfy our social obligations whilst mitigating contagion?

Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, a renowned infection control expert from UNSW, doesn’t think so (USyd’s experts didn’t respond to my attempts to contact them). She believes fist-bumping in healthcare is , misguided and potentially dissuades people from washing their hands properly, which is the gold standard in controlling the spread of disease. Interestingly, Professor McLaws also tells me that the practice of shaking hands possibly stems from the Knights of the Round Table. Apparently, they shook hands as a showing of peace and an indication they had put their swords aside.

The germs one typically picks up outside of a hospital are not so dire, so I suppose shaking hands keeps to a noble and ancient tradition. Still, I’d prefer we just touch knuckles. If you’re a lazy hand washer, at least with a fist-bump you’re only transmitting one-tenth the bacteria you normally would.

Student services counters have been closed all across campus. Art: Rebekah Wright.

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