Should you avoid that graduation handshake?

24th of May 2011
Should you avoid that graduation handshake?

Thousands of European final-year students are preparing to graduate this summer - an event that should bring them satisfaction, joy and pride.

But could it also bring them MRSA or a staph infection? This was what researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore aimed to find out in a recent study.

Professor David Bishai headed up research that considered the risks of picking up Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA through shaking hands at graduation ceremonies.

Graduates' hands were swabbed before and immediately after graduation, and the study showed that 93 per cent of samples contained non-pathogenic bacteria. However, this did not really present a problem according to Bishai.

"A single handshake offers only a small risk of acquiring harmful bacteria," he says. "Our study indicates that when shaking hands, the rate of hand contamination among graduating students is 100 times lower than the 17 per cent rate observed among health workers caring for patients known to be colonised with MRSA."

He said this could be due to the much briefer and less extensive contact in a handshake compared with contact with hospital patients. "Another reason may be that subsequent handshakes could remove pathogens acquired in an earlier handshake," he said.

Shaking hands dates back to the 5th century BC and has become ingrained in modern society as a standard greeting.

"Based on the evidence from this study, the probability of acquiring bacterial pathogens during handshaking could be lower than is commonly perceived," said Bishai. "Individuals who engage in hand hygiene after handshaking should not be dissuaded from this practice."



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