Greeting someone with a friendly hello and a handshake is something most of us do by reflex. In fact, the average person will shake hands roughly 15,000 times during his or her lifetime.

But as antibiotics become increasingly ineffective and the fear of infectious outbreaks of the past making a comeback continues to grow, perhaps it would make sense to cut out the handshake altogether.

The fist bump wins hands down

Our hands touch all sorts of surfaces each and every day. So it’s no surprise that they can pick up a slew of microbes and bacteria. Consider this: Compared to the classic handshake, a high-five spreads 50% fewer germs. A fist bump spreads 90% fewer still. Obviously, not all of these bacteria are harmful, but some can be highly pathogenic: gastroenteritis, urinary tract infections and meningitis are just a few examples.

Most microbes need direct contact to move from one surface to another. Minimizing the contact area therefore gives bacteria less chance to spread. Shaking hands exposes an area of skin that’s three times larger than a fist bump. Plus the contact time is nearly three times longer.

It’s brief contact time that makes the fist bump especially hygienic. The fact that the contact surface is very small and involves an area of the hand where bacteria are less likely to be found (they prefer the inner folds of the palm), makes the fist bump a much healthier option.

Wash your hands

Could the fist bump ever replace the traditional handshake as a means of avoiding epidemics?

With social norms and people’s various perceptions of what is polite, it’s highly unlikely that the handshake will go by the wayside anytime soon. And before we ban handshakes, we need to ensure good hand hygiene first – by showing people how to clean their hands regularly to limit the spread of harmful bacteria.

Many people try to wash their hands regularly but few actually do it correctly. More than half the population forgets to wash their thumbs, and 95% of people do not wash their hands for a sufficient amount of time. Even after washing their hands, 80% of people still have dangerous bacteria that can spread disease.

It’s worth remembering that to remove microbes from your hands, you need to wet them with water, cover them with enough soap, and scrub your palms, fingers, thumbs and the back of your hands for at least 20 seconds. Then you need to rinse and dry your hands thoroughly.