Are All Those Handshakes at Graduation Hazardous to Your
FRIDAY, May 20 (HealthDay News) -- One graduation ceremony may
include thousands of handshakes, but new research shows this casual
contact is not likely to increase your risk of exposure to harmful
Maryland students who shook a total of 5,209 hands while
graduating from schools across the state in 2008 had only a slight
risk of acquiring disease-causing bacteria, according to research
from scientists at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public
The study examined the risk of acquiring pathogenic bacteria
Staphylococcus aureus and
methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus(MRSA) through
shaking hands at graduation ceremonies ranging from elementary
school to college. Researchers swabbed participants' hands before
and immediately following graduation to identify any
disease-causing (pathogenic) bacteria. They detected only three
Staphylococcus aureus out of the thousands of handshakes -- a
rate of 0.019 pathogens per handshake -- and found that 93 percent
of the bacteria were harmless.
The study is in the June issue of the
Journal of School Nursing.
"A single handshake offers only a small risk of acquiring harmful bacteria," said Dr. David Bishai, a professor with the Bloomberg School's department of population, family and reproductive health in a university news release. "Our study indicates when shaking hands, the rate of hand contamination among graduating students to be 100 times lower than the 17 percent rate observed among health workers caring for patients known to be colonized with MRSA."
Reasons for the lower rate of contamination at graduations
include the "much briefer and less-extensive contact in a
handshake" than contact with hospital patients, according to
"Based on the evidence from this study, the probability of acquiring bacterial pathogens during handshaking could be lower than is commonly perceived by the general public," concluded Bishai. "With a lower bound estimate of one bacterial pathogen acquired in 5,209 handshakes, the study offers the politicians, preachers, principals, deans and even amateur hand shakers some reassurance that shaking hands with strangers is not as defiling as some might think."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers tips
on practicing proper
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