Can I use fist bump when I greet my patients or coworkers in the hospital?

Fist bump may be a safer practice than handshake with respect to transfer of potential pathogens but should not be considered a “safe”’ alternative. Studies to date have demonstrated transfer of bacteria even with fist bump, albeit often at lower counts. 1-3

In an experimental study involving healthcare workers in a hospital,1 fist bump was still associated with bacterial colonization, albeit at levels 4 times less than that of palmar surfaces following handshakes. Smaller contact surface area and reduced total contact time were thought to contribute to lower risk of bacterial transfer via fist bump.

In another experiment involving E. coli, fist bump was associated with ~75% less transfer of bacteria relative to “moderate handshake”.2

Interestingly, in a 2020 study of 50 methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)-colonized patients,3 the rate of MRSA isolated from the fist after a fist bump was not significantly lower than that of the dorsal surface of the hand after a handshake (16% vs 22%, P=0.6).  

In contrast, “cruise tap”, defined as contact between 2 knuckles alone, may be safer than fist bump. In the MRSA study above, cruise tap was associated with significantly lower rate of bacterial transfer compared to handshakes (8% vs 22%, P=0.02).3

Even a safer alternative is to avoid skin-to-skin contact altogether by using elbow bump, or no “bump” at all, particularly in the Covid-19 era!

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  1. Ghareeb PA, Bourlai T, Dutton W, et al. Reducing pathogen transmission in a hospital setting. Handshake verses fist bump: a pilot study.
  2. Mela S, Withworth DE. The fist bump: A more hygienic alternative to the handshake. Am J Infect Control 2014;42:916-7.
  3. Pinto-Herrera NC, Jones LD, Ha W, et al. Transfer of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus by first bump versus handshake. Infect Control Hospital Epidemiology 2020;41:962-64.


Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, its affiliate academic healthcare centers, or its contributors. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!

Can I use fist bump when I greet my patients or coworkers in the hospital?

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