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Skip the handshakes this holiday and try healthier hugs instead

Ellen Grant encourages a healthier way to look at greeting others.

Forget handshakes. Ellen Grant hopes you’ll consider fist bumps, elbow bumps and hugs when you greet others during the holiday week and in the new year.

Grant, a former nurse, county mental health director, hospital administrator and Buffalo deputy mayor, is on a mission to stamp out handshakes. It’s her way to help tamp down communicable illnesses.

She’s been somewhat of a world traveler in recent decades – especially in her role at vice president of chapter programming for the nonprofit Say Yes to Education – and hasn’t liked what she’s seen on five continents. She’s trademarked a “Hands Free Please” logo that sells as a button for $5.99 on eBay, with discounts for bulk orders.

Q. How and why did you come up with the idea?

Traveling around and seeing the number of women who were not washing their hands after using the lavatory. ... Then they’re picking up things in the gift shop. Also, having been in work environments where one person got sick with a cold or the flu, and how quickly it spread. You didn’t even have to have been near the person. It had to have been from something that was touched in the office, from door knobs to copier machines. Just watch, in another month people will be talking about how many people are not in their office.

An American Medical Assocaition editorial a couple of years ago confirmed what I’d been thinking about, that we should have a campaign that says “Hands Free Please,” and greet people without shaking their hands.

Q. Talk about the Hands Free Please button. How did you come up with the design?

I wanted to use a handshake but that’s already trademarked. I came up with the hand working with a colleague who’s an artist. I put together a brochure and I have stickers and buttons. Maybe you put it on when you’re sick.

Q. Who should strongly consider wearing one of your stickers or buttons?

We should start with people working in people-friendly environments, everywhere from hospitals to elderly communities. When there’s a flu in the nursing home, a lot of people get sick. People working in health care environments, laboratories and schools, working in commercial kitchens. I can’t think of anybody who wouldn’t benefit from this. If people feel a cold coming on there’s nothing wrong with saying, “I’d shake your hand but I have a cold coming on.” That’s the polite thing to do.

We also want people to wash their hands but most people give it a 3-second rinse and they’re out the door – and that’s usually without soap.

Q. How long should people wash their hands?

You’re supposed to sing “Happy Birthday” to yourself, all four verses.

Q. What do you say to folks who believe that a few germs helps us build immunity?

I would agree to that in general. In general. However, just remember the fact that a germ is a germ. Our grandparents used to say, “A little dirt’s not going to hurt anybody, even if you eat it,” but it’s a different time now. There are parents that hover and want to give a child an antibiotic every time a child sneezes and we’re told not to overuse those, but the fact of the matter, look at how many diseases are going around that we’re not able to contain with a general antibiotic. ... You can come down on either side. I agree that kids have to have some exposure to germs to be really healthy but if I had a newborn these days, I would be using Purrel. ... I keep disinfectant around pretty frequently.

The first rules of staying healthy are to wash your hands and don’t shake hands with someone who’s sick or if you’re sick.

If you do what I suggest, you might get a couple extra hugs. Nothing wrong with that. There’s research saying that hugs increases the number of endorphins.


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon


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