A fist bump transmits about 1/20th of the pathogens as compared to a regular handshake.
Are you concerned about the possibility of a Zombie Apocalypse or do you scoff at the thought of such an eventuality? If the latter, would you be surprised to hear that the US military has an elaborate plan should a Zombie Apocalypse befall the country? This is detailed in an unclassified document titled "CONOP 8888" as reported in this CNN article. Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has this web page devoted to Zombie preparedness.
Of course, no one really expects a true Zombie Apocalypse per se. This concept is just intended as a metaphor for a real-world catastrophe like a pandemic. Consider, for example, the influenza pandemic of 1918 to 1919, which killed somewhere between 20 million and 40 million people. Even worse was the Black Death plague of 1347 to 1351, which ushered somewhere between 75 million and 200 million people off this mortal coil. We like to think that our modern medicines would protect us, but there's always the possibility of a deadly new virus or bacteria appearing on the scene or an existing infectious agent mutating into something deadly. And this is not to mention all of the raving lunatics out there who might create an artificial disease for their own nefarious purposes.
But why am I waffling on about this here? Well, I just heard something interesting about fist bumps on National Public Radio (NPR) on my way into work. But before we go there, let me first note that when I was a young lad, my father instructed me that when I met someone I was to look them in the eye and give them a firm handshake.
As an aside, many people believe that the handshake originated as a gesture of peace by demonstrating that the participant's hands aren't holding any weapons. Interestingly enough, the first documented handshake appears on a monument in the ancient Assyrian city of Kalhu. This carving, circa 850 BC, shows the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III and the Babalonian King Marduk-zakir-sumi I shaking hands in a public display of friendship (or maybe they were confirming a bet).
Personally, the humble handshake would have satisfied my craving for contact for the rest of my life. It never really struck me that there might be other alternatives, such as the "high five" -- a celebratory hand gesture that occurs when two people simultaneously raise one hand each, about head-high, and push, slide, or slap the flats of their palms together.
Truth be told, I'd never even heard of the high five until I moved from England to America. When I arrived here in 1990, the team of which I was a member at work used to go bowling on Wednesday evenings. I must admit that I did wonder why -- when I got a strike -- my friends were all walking around with one hand in the air (in turn, they were wondering why I "left them hanging").
I can't remember the first time I saw two people doing a fist bump. I do remember that I thought it was really stupid. I also thought it was something new, but I've since discovered that it originated in America circa the 1940s with motorcycle biker gangs, because it was easier for them to exchange a fist bump while sitting next to each other at traffic lights than it would be to exchange a handshake (there's little a motorcycle gang member likes less than falling off his bike while shaking hands at a traffic light).
I also understand that a fist bump can be a symbol of giving respect. Furthermore, a fist bump can form part of a "dap greeting," which may involve a complicated routine of shakes, slaps, snaps, and other bodily contacts. But we digress...
Until now, I've never really had occasion to perform a fist bump, but this may be about to change. According to the segment I heard on NPR, a new "Reducing Pathogen Transmission" paper in the Journal of Hospital Infection details an analysis of different forms of greeting. It seems that the surface area of one's palm is about four times larger than that of one's fist; also, that a handshake lasts about three times longer than a fist bump.
The end result, according to the reporter in the NPR program I was listening to, is that a high five transmits about 50% of the pathogens as compared to a regular handshake. By comparison, a fist bump conveys only around 1/20th of the infectious agents. All I can say is that I'm going to start working on my dap greetings -- watch this space!
— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting