Shaking Hands is Disgusting – Here’s What Else You Can Do – Nicky Milner

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The traditional handshake plays a central role in our daily lives. We shake hands with people we know and those who are new to us. A handshake communicates our personality and mood to people and we use them as a mutually acceptable way of agreeing to seal the deal in endless scenarios.

But if you stop all that handshaking for a moment and take a closer look at the science behind this gesture, things might not seem quite so pleasant. This is in part because the human body contains many different types of bacteria. Some are good and we rely on these to help keep us healthy. Others are not so good and might make us sick.

We constantly gain and lose bacteria and so we are never sure when we might pick up an infection. Surfaces act as a route of transmission for bacteria and therefore every time we touch a surface we share bacteria unknowingly. This is why the risk of picking up an infectious disease is increased in places such as toilet seats. But have you ever thought about what bacteria you share when shaking somebody’s hand?

The power of a handshake

According to research from the University of Colorado, on average we carry 3,200 bacteria from 150 different species on our hands. And yet, shaking hands can be an everyday occurrence. It is considered to be an accepted means of greeting people and is the epitome of politeness in diverse cultures – especially in the Western world. As well as being a means of greeting people, it is also used to build rapport and trust with people. Ignoring a handshake is deemed to be impolite and rude.

Research has shown that on average, we will shake hands on average 15,000 times in our lifetime. So there are lots of opportunities for spreading bacteria between people – particularly if they are carrying potentially infectious bacteria that could make us ill. This includes faecal bacteria, which is quite common on hands.

This risk increases even further when we don’t wash our hands regularly – which is why good hand hygiene is essential. And of course, if the bacteria are resistant to antibiotics then we could inadvertently playing a role in spreading antibiotic resistance within our environment.

Fist pumps preferred

Some hospitals are so concerned about the spread of germs via handshakes that they are looking at creating handshake-free zones. Good hand hygiene and regular hand washing is often very low in hospitals. And hospital acquired infections are a major concern in healthcare institutions.

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The hospital environment is regularly monitored for the presence of potentially infectious agents that can be acquired by a patient during a stay there. Critical care wards, and those containing vulnerable patients (such as the very young, elderly and immunocompromised) are especially important since patients are more prone to severe infections.

Research performed in neonatal intensive care wards – where sick newborn babies are cared for – explored the potential for handshake free zones. The wards ran a trial to see if they could discourage handshaking and actively encourage alternative greetings – such as fist bumps, smiling and eye contact – to try to reduce the person to person spread of infectious agents.

Alternative hand shakes

But it’s not just limited to fist pumps – around the world there are many different ways of saying hello and you don’t have to look far to find “healthier” ways of greeting. The New Zealand Maori, for example, rub noses and foreheads in their traditional hongi greeting and the Japanese bow to each other. Then there are the “dap greetings” such as high fives and fist bumps – which are commonly used by young people in the Western world.

Research has shown that the amount of bacteria transferred through a handshake is twice as much when compared to a high five. Significantly lower numbers of bacteria are also transferred when a fist bump is used. This is largely due to the difference in surface areas that are in contact with each other – despite the greeting taking the same time and number of bacteria on the surface of the person initiating the greeting on each occasion.

So, is the traditional handshake being replaced with more diverse and healthier options? This will take time – if it happens at all. But that said, as awareness of infectious diseases grows and people actively try to reduce the spread of infection, perhaps there could be a future where we all high five and fist pump rather than formally shake the hands of those we meet. Or at the very least better adoption of handwashing.

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How Often You Should Clean Your Home, According To Science – Vivian Manning

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Cleanliness can be somewhat subjective: some folks wear things once and feel compelled to wash them, while others wear them five times before exposing them to some kind of soap. But when it comes to cleaning your home, there are some standards to consider, if only for your health’s sake.

If you saw what lived on your surfaces under a microscope, your skin might crawl: Teeny tiny bacteria and microbes consisting of viruses, soil, fungi, bacteria, animal dander, pollen, sweat, excretions and skin cells all invade your spaces on a regular basis. According to research in Popular Science, the life span of a germ varies greatly depending on the bacteria and the surface.

E. coli (intestinal bacteria that can make you sick) can live for a few hours to a full day, while the calicivirus (a.k.a. the stomach flu) can live for days or weeks. So how often should you clean your tub, or wipe down your toilet or change your sheets, before they become something of a biohazard? Probably more often than you think.

Try This Science-Backed Cleaning Schedule

We asked two experts, Jason Tetro, microbiologist, visiting scientist at the University of Guelph and author of The Germ Code and The Germ Files, and Becky Rapinchuk, a cleaning expert, and author of the books Simply Clean and The Organically Clean Home, for their advice.

How often should you change the sheets?

Once a week — two at the most. Though most bacteria on sheets is environmental (like dust) and mostly harmless, the bacteria and fungi, along with the dirt and oils sloughed off during sleep, can cling to sheets and your skin, contributing to acne and dandruff. To keep your bed clean, change your sheets once a week (as Rapinchuk recommends), or a minimum of every two weeks (as Tetro recommends), and wash them in hot water.

Disinfect the sinks?

Every day. Even if they look clean, sinks can get really gross — Tetro says the bathroom sink accumulates fecal matter (from washing your hands after you use the bathroom). Also, bacteria from food, like E.Coli and Salmonella, can contaminate the kitchen sink, especially if you’ve been handling raw meat. When water splashes back up onto your hands, they’re contaminated, too. To stay on the safe side, wipe down your sinks daily.

Vacuum rugs and wash floors?

One to two weeks. Rugs should be vacuumed weekly (more often if you have pets) to keep dust, dirt and allergens at bay. Give floors a good wash or steam once every couple of weeks, says Tetro. You might want to wash your kitchen floors a little more often, due to food bacteria that can spread around.

Wipe down the bathroom?

Once a week at least. Tetro says your bathroom is the ultimate bacteria host; E.coli can be found within six feet of the toilet and in the sink. To keep it at bay, disinfect the toilet and sink at least once weekly, and the bathtub every two weeks — more if you shower often. Your shower curtains should be disinfected weekly to avoid mildew, which can cause skin, eye and throat irritation in some people.

Swap out towels?

It depends on the room. Bath towels become loaded with bacteria (including staph and fecal) and if your towel doesn’t fully dry, that bacteria can grow. Plus, dandruff-causing fungi can also grow in them, Rapinchuk recommends swapping out bath towels every other day. Your kitchen towels collect bacteria every time you handle food and wash your hands. Tetro recommends washing those weekly, unless you handled raw meat. In that case, wash the towel immediately.

Swap out sponges?

Every few days. Your kitchen sponge gets awfully germy, with billions of bacteria on every square inch, says Tetro. But don’t get freaked out — most of the bacteria isn’t harmful. Because washing sponges with soap and water doesn’t really work, Tetro recommends dropping them into boiling water for 2 minutes, putting them in the microwave for 2 minutes while damp every couple of days, and replacing them when they deteriorate.

Wipe down doorknobs?

Once a week (in some rooms). Though doorknobs accumulate a lot of bacteria, they need only need to be washed infrequently, says Rapinchuk. However, doorknobs in the bathroom and the kitchen are bound to catch a lot more bacteria, so disinfecting them at least once a week might be a good idea, especially if there’s an illness in the house.

Does all this cleaning seem daunting? If you can’t seem to keep up, do your best. Rapinchuk recommends, at the very least, making your bed every day, if only because it encourages a productive mindset. It literally takes seconds and can set up your day for success, and, hey, it may remind you that your sheets could use a good wash.

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