Can Fist Bumps Halt Hospital Infections?

They're more hip and less germy than a handshake

Presidential Fist Pound

CHANTILLY, VA- OCTOBER 22: Democratic presidential nominee U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) fists bumps with Ethan Gibbs the son of Robert Gibbs the campaign communication director as he arrives at Dulles International Airport October 22, 2008 in Chantilly, Virginia. Obama continues to campaign with election day less than two weeks away. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Infections transmitted in health-care facilities kill at least 80,000 Americans each year. One common culprit? The germ-spreading handshake. According to a study recently published in the American Journal of Infection Control, a less formal fist bump might make a safer greeting between doctors and patients. "We found that the handshake transferred 10 to 20 times more bacteria than a fist bump," says David Whitworth, a biochemistry lecturer at Aberystwyth University in Wales.

Shoulder Squeeze

It’s debatable whether knocking knuckles can stand in for the familiarity of an open palm. Mark Sklansky, a pediatric cardiologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, has doubts. “Some people feel it’s not appropriate in a medical setting,” he says. “I find squeezing someone’s shoulder a nicer interaction.”

High Five

Whitworth also found that a high five transfers half as many bacteria as the handshake (though it’s perhaps best appreciated by pediatric patients).

This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of Popular Science.