Germ Defense at the Gym: More People, More Germs More Infections


Health clubs and fitness centers are especially busy this time of year, as every year fitness and health goals rank high on New Year’s resolutions.

Health clubs and fitness centers can harbor a range of harmful bacteria, fungi and viruses. Microbes can accumulate in areas where hands contact equipment frequently, especially if people don’t wipe them down with antiseptic solution or antiseptic wipes.

“You know, I think people understand that you can pick up a cold or a flu at the gym. But really some of the most common things that you pick up are skin infections.”

— Teresa Carr of Consumer Reports

Microbes that cause skin infections can survive in wet areas, such as wet floors and on exercise equipment and towels where sweat drips.

“Staph infections such as MRSA can be a little more worrisome because they’re resistant to some antibiotics and so they’re a bit harder to treat. But those infections as well as really common infections such as plantars warts and athlete’s foot and jock itch can all typically be prevented … some germs can live for days on (exercise) mats, as well as other surfaces in the gym such as weight machines and locker room benches.”

— Teresa Carr of Consumer Reports

MRSA or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium responsible for several difficult-to-treat infections. Natural selection has allowed MRSA to develop into multiple organisms capable of resistance to beta-lactam antibiotics, which include the penicillins (methicillin, dicloxacillin, nafcillin, oxacillin, etc.) and the cephalosporins.

Consumer Reports offered a few common sense strategies to help people avoid infections …

Start by keeping cuts covered (with a bandage).

Place a towel over weight machines and always wear flip-flops in wet areas.

For yoga classes or group exercise classes, bring your own exercise mat and disinfect it regularly. Most likely, the mats at the gym are not thoroughly cleaned between classes.

Practice good hygiene by wiping down equipment, washing your hands after a workout and showering after a swim.

Keep up on your laundry to helps prevent microbe growth on your clothes.

Here are some additional recommendations …

Don’t touch your eyes, nose, lips or mouth after you have touch equipment, door handles, etc at a health club until you have washed your hands or used an antiseptic wipe.

Avoid touching acne, abrasions or skin with your fingers after touching health club equipment and door handles until you clean your hands.

Don’t sit on benches in locker rooms or near whirlpools without placing a towel down first.

Don’t put food on a counter without placing it on a clean napkin.

Don’t touch protein bars with your fingers, if you are eating after touching exercise equipment. If it is not practical to wash your hands, open the wrapper of the protein bar, but keep the wrapper on the uneaten part of the protein bar. Keep your fingers off the actual edible part of the protein bar — holding on to the exterior part of the wrapper.

Don’t leave a water bottle unattended where someone could accidentally drink out of your bottle or handle it without you noticing.

Consumer Reports also suggests taking a good look around a gym before you join. Check the equipment to see if it is well maintained. Also, check the bathrooms and locker rooms for cleanliness. The bathroom should also be stocked with liquid soap and alcohol-based hand sanitizer. If the club is a 24-hour club, check the cleanliness at the time you will be using the fitness center.

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