Can I Catch MRSA at My Gym?
Any time I hear or see enough chatter about a fitness related topic, either in person, on line, or both, I feel compelled to share my knowledge with readers regarding that topic. One particular issue that has moved to the forefront of health club chatter is MRSA (pronounced mer ´ suh), which is an acronym for methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus. MRSA is a bacteria that, for years, used to attack the very disabled, sick and elderly who resided in hospitals, nursing homes and institutional facilities.
The problem is that it is resistant to many commonly used antibiotics. In recent years, however, a strain of these bacteria has emerged in the general population called CA-MRSA, or community acquired MRSA. Now, anyone can contract the bug which is capable of causing anything from a small pimple to a full blown life threatening skin infection called necrotizing fasciitis (aka flesh eating bacteria). What does all this have to do with working out at the gym, you ask?
Because of reports of athletes contracting the bacteria by sharing equipment and working out in the same quarters, some have begun to speculate that sharing work out equipment with countless others, at a gym or health club for instance, can lead to spread of CA-MRSA. I, for one, believe that it is plausible. However, like so many other things, it is not a reason to panic or ditch your gym membership- if you use common sense.
Firstly, I don’t know about you, but I never thought that sitting myself down on a sweaty, recently used weight lifting bench or exercise bike was terribly sanitary to begin with. Most gyms now have, or should have, some cleaning solution in a spray bottle along with paper towels readily available near workout stations. Before beginning a new exercise, clean off the equipment. It will only take a few seconds.
Also, always carry around a clean towel you can use to cover the area on the equipment that your skin will be in contact with. You can either bring you own towel from home (which is probably the best idea) or use a freshly cleaned towel your gym may provide. I’m partial to the former since I know for a fact that my towel has been washed properly. It’s also good gym etiquette to use a towel and clean your equipment after you use it, especially exercise bicycles, treadmills and step machines, where the amount of sweat is much greater.
Secondly, if you do have a pimple, open sore, or any type of skin lesion or infection, either skip going to the gym until it is healed, or, at the very least, keep the area completely covered. We will all be thankful for that.
Also, be certain to shower thoroughly after your workouts. There are certain types of soap you can use that can be effective against MRSA but you do need a doctors’ prescription for some of them, such as chlorhexidine. Otherwise, a good antibacterial soap should do.
By following these simple and easy hygiene tips, your odds of contracting not only MRSA but other germs at your local health club will be minimized. Of course, one can never completely eliminate the risk completely, but that was always true, even before CA-MRSA hit the scene. If you do have a skin lesion that is becoming very red, is draining pus, is warm to the touch and enlarging, see your doctor immediately. Otherwise, grab your towel and get to work.
Jeffrey Heit is an internist in Burlington, Massachusetts and is affiliated with Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He wrote for HealthCentral as a health professional for Obesity.