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Here’s a way to get a grip on the flu

Citizen Staff Writer
Off the beat: Garry Duffy

While I’m uncertain how seriously to take this latest swine flu outbreak, I will follow the advice of health officials about habit changes to lessen the chances of contracting it.

My skepticism stems from the recollection that there was another swine flu “epidemic” in 1976, when the news media whipped up public fear of deadly contagion.

President Ford wanted everyone in the United States to get a swine flu inoculation, until the vaccine proved as dangerous as the disease and was discontinued after several deaths were recorded.

But why take chances now? Sure, I’ll wash my hands a lot, open public restroom doors with a paper towel in my hand and hold my breath around people who are coughing or sneezing.

But if we really want to minimize the opportunity for this to become a pandemic, let’s go all out and abolish one of the most effective transmitters of disease: the handshake.

Who invented shaking hands, anyway? Why don’t we knock knees together or bump butts instead?

Some trace the handshake to ancient times when rulers symbolically took power from the gods by gripping the hands of idols.

Others believe it comes from medieval Europe, where the right hand was extended openly to show that you weren’t about to bludgeon the other guy. The grasping of hands sealed the deal that there was no malevolence intended by either party.

Whatever. Few people carry a mace around anymore, and almost never to business or social functions.

But the handshake persists in various forms. There is the crush-the-other-guy’s-hand grip. The just-firm-enough-with-eye-contact handshake. The grasp-with-two-hands grip. The creepy limp-fish handshake. And the endless hip variations of combination grasp, spin and bump handshakes – almost a Ministry of Silly Handshakes.

No one should be offended at the decline of a handshake. Years ago, Sen. John McCain visited a newsroom where I worked as assistant managing editor. He looked quite under the weather. I politely explained that I was leaving the next day to visit family over Christmas and did not want to chance carrying an illness with me.

The senator did not appear insulted or distraught at the missed opportunity to press the flesh with me.

Let’s just do away with this archaic and potentially contagion-spreading custom.

I am officially declaring a personal moratorium on handshaking. Don’t be upset when I don’t extend my open right hand to grasp yours. I probably won’t be armed.

Next target: neckties, the medieval bib.

Garry Duffy is a Tucson Citizen reporter. Contact him at 807-8421 or gduffy@tucsoncitizen.com.

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