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Pressing the Flesh Can Take Its Toll on Politicians

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WebMD Health News

Feb. 4, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Shaking hands and kissing babies go hand in hand when it comes to seeking political office. Even in this time of media blitzes and Internet campaigns, the bread-and-butter staple of pressing the flesh is still fundamental to the process.

But can all that glad-handing leave politicians a little sore at the end of the day?

Recent reports detail some of the risks of vigorous campaigning. George W. Bush's spokesman Scott McClellan tells WebMD that the candidate recently showed his hand after campaigning in four cities, revealing red and swollen knuckles. But, McClellan says, Bush now says after "months of campaigning, my hands are now in pretty good handshaking shape as long as no one tries any vise grip. I'm good for a 1,000 or 1,200 shakes a day before redness and swelling set in." The flip side, though, is Bush does shake nearly that many hands every day, according to McClellan.

McClellan says Bush doesn't really take any precautions from all the germs he must come into contact with, but occasionally will "use a hand sanitizer before he eats or something. But he enjoys the handshaking."

In fact, McClellan jokes, all that handshaking may even be healthy for his boss. "His recently released medical records show no indication of adverse health effects, [so, perhaps] all the handshaking has actually contributed to his excellent health," he tells WebMD.

Alejandro Badia, MD, is a surgeon with the Miami Hand Center. He says he's "never seen anybody" with a problem from shaking too many hands, but he agrees the hands could certainly get sore from the process. What about the threat of repetitive stress injuries? Badia tells WebMD, "I don't really believe, philosophically, that doing repetitive stuff with your hands, particularly keyboard work, or even shaking hands, is generally going to cause problems with your hand."

He says the people who develop problems like carpal tunnel syndrome may have a predisposition to developing the problem, and a repetitive type of activity could aggravate the situation. Badia agrees that, if anything, a politician would have a predisposition to want to shake hands ... leaving just the risk of germs. He says "most of your upper respiratory infections" are transmitted by hand contact.

In fact, the CDC states handwashing is the single most important procedure for preventing infections in hospitals. And with the abundance of bacteria, viruses, and pathogens that travel via the hand, even the campaign trail can be a risky place.

Should any budding politician want a piece of advice, WebMD reported on an article in last April's Archives of Internal Medicine which found washing with antibacterial hand cleansers was more effective than ordinary soap and water at reducing hand contamination. And a healthy immune system can take care of a lot of the everyday problems.

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