Why this year's Olympians are refusing to shake hands

Gordon Hurd

Best known for infecting cruise ships and classrooms, the notorious norovirus is currently having its way with Olympians in PyeongChang.

In an effort to avoid the further spreading of the virus, officials are reportedly encouraging the athletes to ditch the sportsmanship tradition of handshakes. But is their suggested solution - the fist bump - any better?

According to numerous reports, norovirus is spreading through the Olympics in South Korea and officials have taken action.

Gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin and silver medalist Ragnhild Mowinckel, greet each other with a fist bump during the medal ceremony. Photo: Getty

“Officials have told [hockey] players to fist-bump each other rather than shaking hands to prevent transmission of norovirus, which is highly contagious,” reports the Washington Post.

With cases rapidly on the rise, norovirus is making its best efforts to medal in maladies during the global athletic event.

Not all the athletes are dropping the handshake. The women’s hockey teams, including the U.S., which defeated Finland on Monday, decided the traditional handshake ritual was more important than the risks of getting sick.

The increase in novovirus has seen athletes take more precautions when it comes to touching each other. Photo: Getty

And the risks with norovirus aren’t trivial. While there are multiple strains of norovirus, typical symptoms once you succumb include fever, muscle pain and aches, fatigue, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Among those quarantined in South Korea is the 62-year-old father of U.S. hockey player James Wisniewski.

“He was in the taxi line and started throwing up. They had to call an ambulance. It was pretty bad,” James told USA Today.

So, it’s not just the athletes at risk, but their support teams, spectators, and family members as well.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people become sick with the virus most often when they are exposed to contaminated food or liquids, but touching anything infected with the virus - like someone’s hands - and then touching your own nose, mouth, or eyes, is another high-risk way to fall victim.

Can the fist bump actually help squash the spread of the nasty bug? According to some small but telling scientific studies, the greeting can actually help.

According to one study in the American Journal of Infection Control, a handshake can expose you to 10 times the amount of bacteria as compared with the fist bump. Another alternative, according to the study, is the good old high five. Here’s hoping either one keeps the Olympians safe from further harm.

Outbreaks of novovirus have happened at previous Olympics as well. Photo: Getty

This is not the first time that Olympic handshakes have become a topic of conversation.

During the Summer Games in London in 2012, British athletes were told to avoid shaking hands to minimise the risk of getting sick.

The advice was heavily scrutinised at the time, to which the British Olympic Association’s chief medical officer said, “The greatest threat to performance is illness and possibly injury. We are talking about minimising risk of illness. It is all about hand hygiene.”

Six years later, the same advice still holds.

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