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Pressing the Flesh Can Take Its Toll on Politicians

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Perhaps, though, the crushing grip may be more difficult to handle than the occasional cold. Former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley has been said to lament pains in his hands because of the constant grasping. He once even told an Associated Press reporter of a technique he has to avoid a large man's crushing grip. "The idea is to get there quick if it's a big guy," he said. "Get there first and you have a chance to control the grip."

A councilperson in Atlanta, Debbie Starnes, says handshaking is a central part of her job and "it never really stops," she tells WebMD. As far as germs ... nah, Starnes says. In fact, she also does a lot of hugging while out among her constituents.

Aside from the occasional crushing handshake, Starnes says, "I don't think I've had any ill medical effects from my job."

Handshaking is an ancient custom dating back to times when it was customary to carry a weapon. A handshake or a grip was a good way to ensure against treachery, or show good faith.

Never the traditionalist, developer Donald Trump will have none of it. Though considering a stab at the presidency, Trump made news by saying he would not shake hands with people while campaigning. While being interviewed on a national network, he called shaking hands "barbaric." Fearing germs, Trump says he is a "clean-hands freak."

Those fears apparently don't fluster President Clinton, who's well known for giving his Secret Service agents fits by the way he dives into a crowd. The president reportedly cleans his hands with antibacterial lotion after a handshaking session.

History notes that both President Kennedy and President Johnson suffered bloody hands after especially rigorous greeting sessions.

But Teddy Roosevelt seems to have a firm grip on the record. According to the former president's biographer, Edmund Morris, Roosevelt shook 8,150 hands at the White House on New Year's Day, 1907. Afterward, Morris writes, Roosevelt went upstairs to privately, disgustedly, scrub himself clean.

Vital information:

  • The hands of political candidates hot on the campaign trail may take a little wear and tear, but doctors say a lot of handshaking probably doesn't jeopardize good hand health.
  • The CDC, as well as people in the public eye who shake a lot of hands, emphasize the importance of hand washing, as illnesses can be spread by hand-to-hand contact.
  • Other studies have shown that antibacterial soap can cleanse the hands better than ordinary soap and water.
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