Coronavirus: Eddie Mair intrigued by the real reason we shouldn't shake hands

6 March 2020, 17:18

By Fiona Jones

This microbiologist told Eddie Mair the intriguing reason why we shouldn't shake each other's hands during the outbreak - and it's not as obvious as you might think...

With the UK coronavirus cases currently at 163, people have stopped shaking hands, although these are not direct instructions from the government.

Microbiologist Dr Chris Smith explained that the coronavirus can't infect you through the skin of your hands but instead through mucus membrane, which is the nose, the throat or your lung tissue.

The real reason we shouldn't shake hands was exemplified perfectly in a "grim" study that he recounted, where people whose hands were shaken were compared to those whose hands were not shaken.

US Vice President Mike Pence bumping elbows instead of shaking hands
US Vice President Mike Pence bumping elbows instead of shaking hands. Picture: PA

"The hand that was shaken spent significantly more time afterwards in close proximity to the person's face, and they were measuring their breathing rate and the person was sniffing their fingers.

"What we do when we shake peoples' hands is we use it as a proxy marker for interrogating chemically the person we've just shaken hands with.

"If you do shake hands with someone it's much more likely subconsciously you're going to bring your fingers up towards your face anyway and give them a good sniff so try not to do that."

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