Swine Flu Prevention: Is It Time to Kill the Common Handshake?

Tombstone handshake, from Mel B, via Flickr.

Tombstone handshake, from Mel B, via Flickr.

When I was in the women’s movement in the 1960s and 1970s, one of the things that feminists were doing was learning how to compete in a public world that had rules set by men. One of the traditions that we focused on was handshaking: when do you do it, for how long, and how hard? Even today, not everyone is sure—as shown by this article from nurse consultant Donna Cardillo on the importance of nurses learning the etiquette around handshaking.

When I first read Cardillo’s piece, I wrote to her that—given the concern about emerging infections and pandemics that can be spread through touch—perhaps nurses simply shouldn’t shake hands. I wonder: has the time come to do as the Japanese do, and bow instead of shaking hands? When I have a cold, I refuse to shake hands and find that most people appreciate this caution. Swine flu can easily be spread through handshaking. While we can’t stop all other forms of transmission, we can mount a campaign to end handshaking now. I might not pass swine flu to you today with my handshake, but I’m sure I’ll pass something else to you—and maybe already have.

Diana J. Mason, Editor-in-Chief

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2016-11-21T13:31:38+00:00 April 30th, 2009|Nursing|3 Comments

About the Author:

Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. Diana Mason May 11, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    I would approach the priest or pastor about modifying the communal greeting so that you’re not feeling like an obsessive germ freak. I was at a dinner last week and introduced myself to the woman sitting two seats away from me. I extended my hand (despite what I wrote in the original posting on this topic) and she simply would not take it. I felt quite odd. She should have simply said, “I’m giving up handshaking in this time of concern about transmission of swine flu.” Perhaps the church can start a new tradition of bowing or touching a clothed arm of the person next to you. Other ideas?

  2. Lily Van Helden May 3, 2009 at 9:52 am

    I’m so terrified of Swine Flu, so after I saw the news on CNN & read on the Internet lastnight about handshaking can cause spreading the flu. I went to church this morning & tried for the 1st time in my life: refusing handshake at time of peace offering, it felt so weird & guilty especially when those people around me so naifly & peacefully offering their hands to me…. when I looked into their eyes, they are wondering why? Even worse when there was a 3 years old girl handed down her little hand to me and I couldn’t grab her hand? So I just smiled instead….at that moment I felt terrible. Please advise me, what shoud I do next time I go to church whether I do handshaking &then use hand sanatizer right after? Thx Lily, Jakarta Indonesia

  3. Katherine Block April 30, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    I actually was thinking the same thing about the handshake this very day. Prevention-Prevention

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