No Handshakes in the Times of COVID-19

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Because of the rapid transmission of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) handshakes are not the healthy or correct way to greet anybody.

There is no doubt that the Coronavirus is changing social interaction, especially in the western world. Handshakes, cheek-kisses, hugs – the everyday greetings ingrained in our culture – are not as welcome as they used to be. In fact they could be fatal.

Handshake Bans

Fear of the spreading coronavirus has led groups around the world to abandon niceties and recommend against handshakes.

“Handshake bans are not a new idea,” says Brian Labus, assistant professor of public health at the University of Nevada, in an email to The Verge. “They seem to pop up every time there is a big outbreak of a new disease or even during severe flu season.” In 2014, a group of doctors called for bans on handshakes in health care settings to avoid spreading infections around.

Hands, especially those that have not been recently washed, can pass along germs that cause disease, especially respiratory infections. If people wash their hands regularly and sneeze into their elbows, handshakes won’t be as risky.

According to the Boston Herald, “A handshake transfers 10 times as many bacteria as a fist bump, and bacteria transmission in a high-five landed somewhere in between, the study shows.

High Bacteria Transmission

Germ transmission doesn’t just vary with the type of greeting or how long it is, but it also depends on the force of contact.

“Science says shaking hands is disgusting,” Nicky Milner, director of medical education at Anglia Ruskin University told the Guardian. She pointed to research showing on average we carry 3,200 bacteria from 150 different species on our hands. On average, we will shake hands 15,000 times in our life time, she said.

Fist Bump is Safer

Scientists encourage widespread adaptation of the fist bump as a more hygienic alternative to the handshake.

In countries around the world health officials are advising the public to avoid friendly kissing, or a quick peck on either one or both cheeks as a way to say hello.

The Japanese bow, the Thai way, where palms are pressed together in prayer-like fashion, are all healthier. In Ethiopia, they touch your elbow, and then you bang opposite shoulders.

Elbow Bump. Foot shakes and Waves

The World Health Organization’s director of pandemic disease, Sylvie Brand, meanwhile, has endorsed the elbow bump, foot shakes, waves and the “wai” as safer alternatives to shaking hands.

Changing Behavior

As more people begin changing their behavior, church communities are among those taking precautions. Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba has issued a statement on The Corona Virus and Hygiene Practices in Pastoral Care and Worship.

This is a time for people to get more creative with their social interactions as they try their best to avoid contact.

The safest way to avoid transmission is to avoid all contact, experts say.

Dr. KK Aggarwal, a cardiologist and former president of Indian Medical Association, told the Times of India that 30% to 40% of the risk of coronavirus would be eliminated if people adopted what he called “Corona Namaste” instead of the handshake.

Of course good hygiene habits for coughing and sneezing and properly washing your hands – with soap, for 20 seconds are the cornerstone of containing the spread of germs.

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