Handshakes unlikely to spread harmful bacteria: study

May 25, 2011

Baltimore – Handshakes may not spread as many harmful germs as people may believe, suggests research recently released by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

According to a study abstract, researchers conducted a study to estimate the risk of school officials contracting a pathogen through repeated handshakes at graduation ceremonies in 2008. Study participants had their hands swabbed before and immediately following graduation ceremonies to test for bacteria. Although officials shook more than 5,000 hands, researchers found only three instances of Staphylococcus aureus present on their hands following graduation. Non-pathogenic bacteria – which are not harmful – were identified on 93 percent of the samples.

“A single handshake offers only a small risk of acquiring harmful bacteria,” said lead author David Bishai. “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 [Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus].”

The study was published in the June issue of the Journal of School Nursing.