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Healthy Handshakes

June 7, 2011

A new study investigates whether shaking hands spreads germs.



Are handshakes harmful? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Graduation ceremonies are taking place at schools around the country, and principals and deans shake thousands of students’ hands as they accept their diplomas. But will all those handshakes spread germs? David Bishai, coordinator of health economics at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health deployed a team of students to find out. They swabbed the hands of school officials before and after graduation ceremonies in the state of Maryland. They found harmless bacteria in 93% of the samples, but only one case of antibiotic resistant MRSA from one person’s right hand.

DAVID BISHAI (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health):

And our main conclusion was that there wasn’t a lot of pathogenic bacteria being transferred in handshakes.


Further studies are needed to determine whether flu and cold viruses are commonly transferred this way, so if you’re going to be shaking hands, handwashing is still recommended. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.