It’s graduation season, and all of those handshakes might leave you running for the hand sanitizer. But you may not need to worry, according to new data. A team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health examined the risk of acquiring pathogenic bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) through shaking hands at graduation ceremonies across Maryland and found that contamination was relatively low at handshake-heavy events like graduation ceremonies.
Researchers swabbed participants’ hands before and immediately following graduation to identify any pathogenic bacteria, but found that 93 percent of samples contained nonpathogenic bacteria. In fact, 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 MRSA. Their results are featured in the June 2011 issue of the Journal of School Nursing.
Reasons for the lower rate of contamination at graduations include the much briefer and less-extensive contact in a handshake and what we presume is a lower prevalence of MRSA in graduating students compared to hospital patients. Another reason may be that subsequent handshakes could remove pathogens acquired in an earlier handshake. Researchers say that shaking hands with strangers is not as defiling as some might think.
So whether you’re graduating from veterinary school this month or congratulating a new graduate, shake away. Still, it won’t hurt to wash your hands afterward.