Turns out a firm, warm handshake is more than a cordial power greeting. It’s a vector for germs. In one recent experiment, handshakes transferred an average 124 million units of E.coli.

What to do?
In our handshake culture, a simple smile seems inadequate and standoffish; a waggly finger wave is odd; a brisk nod could easily be misinterpreted as rude. Touching elbows? Beyond awkward.

So consider the fist bump. Infectious disease experts advocate this charismatic ritual greeting because it spreads 1/20th the germs of a traditional handshake and is ten times as hygienic as a high-five, according to research recently published in the American Journal of Infection Control. Keep reading to learn why and see a cool science video on fist bumps featuring celebrities and cute animals.

Shifting western society from handshakes to fist-bumps won’t be easy. But here’s motivation: In America, community-acquired pneumonia causes 60,000 deaths a year. The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published an article that advocates banning handshakes in healthcare settings. That’s because in hospitals, one in 25 patients develops a hospital-acquired infection; 75,000 patients a year die from such infections. Here’s an excellent summary of recent fist-bump research.

If you’ve never fist-bumped, you’re not alone–and it’s never too late to start!

Begin by studying video clips of public fist-bumping. Here’s a short science video featuring the smooth, strong fist-bump style of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. (Also includes the science behind fist-bumps and some cute animals).

Here’s raw video footage of His Holiness the Dalai Lama fist-bumping with then Memphis Mayor Myron Lowery. It’s an excellent tutorial for those new to fist-bumping because Mayor Lowery essentially teaches the Tibetan leader fist-bump technique. The exchange ends with a double-handed soul grip, probably not so good for public health, but at least their initial foray into fist-bumping was a step in the right direction.

Practice at home and with friends, try out different styles. You, too, can fist-bump your way to the cutting-edge of culture and public health. As always, we invite you to share photos, videos and fist-bump stories by emailing discover@pacsci.org.

Of course, even the most prodigious fist-bumpers still need to wash their hands to get rid of germs lurking on public surfaces like door handles, elevator buttons and shared computer keyboards.

Visit Wellbody Academy’s Germnasium to use the only public-use SureWash training station in the world and learn the World Health Organization’s recommended handwashing techniques. SureWash, a high-tech training gadget that uses a Microsoft Kinect camera and video gaming technology, was designed to train medical personnel to correctly wash their hands. There’s no extra charge for SureWash or any Wellbody Academy activities. It’s all included in your admission to Pacific Science Center and always free for members. We want to help you stay well.