6 Dangerous Gym Bacteria and Fungus plus 7 Ways to Protect Yourself

You feel like your local gym is a place to unwind from the stresses of daily life and basically relax and get fit. However, it bears remembering that for bacteria and viruses your local gym is nothing short of a haven, a palace - a veritable paradise on Earth! Your local gym is positively alive with bacteria, fungus and other pathogens, as stressed by Men’s Fitness. This is echoed by Dr Mercola who warns,
“It’s a given that there are infectious agents like bacteria, viruses and even antibiotic-resistant MRSA at your local gym. It’s a public place, and one that houses not only sweaty people but also hot tubs, saunas, showers and other moist, bacteria havens.”
Jack Foley, an athletic trainer and director of sports medicine at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. says that at any given time, one person in three in the United States suffers from a skin disease that can be spread to others, even while in the incubation stage. Do you think this is an exaggeration? Consider how two men contracted Legionnaires Disease which was traced back to a hot tub at the LA Fitness in Naperville, Ill in 2013. An L.A. Fitness gym in Orlando, Fl., also spawned a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that affected three people. Other cases of Legionnaire’s outbreaks in gyms have been reported in other countries, including Australia. E. coli has also reared its ugly head at gyms, including an outbreak at a fitness center in Jackson, Mo., in 2010 that state health officials say may have sickened 14 people.

So, What Pathogenic Delights Await You?

The National Athletic Trainers’ Association issued a Position Statement on skin diseases in a 2010 edition of the Journal of Athletic Training. In it the Association stated that,
“Trauma, environmental factors, and infectious agents act together to continually attack the integrity of the skin. Close quarters combined with general poor hygiene practices make athletes particularly vulnerable to contracting skin diseases.”
Change the word ‘athletes’ for ‘casual gym users’ and the exact same principle applies. Skin-related infections or pathogens that enter the body through breaks in the skin include staphylococcus aureus, commonly known as staph, which is a bacterium that mostly causes skin infections.

Staph infections

These are usually mild and include superficial rashes, pimples and/or boils on your skin. However, should staph spread it can become a life-threatening infection such as pneumonia, sepsis or even meningitis. Prevention? Wash your hands all the time whilst at the gym – and we mean, all the time.

Escherichia Coli

Commonly known as E. coli, is an infamous and all-too-common bacterium found in the intestines and stool of animals. It cause cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and can lead to pneumonia. You can catch it from surfaces with germs aplenty, e.g. like those at a busy gym. Prevention? Be leery of continuously touching surfaces such as cardio machines, workout mats, weights and water fountains – so, wash, wash, wash those hands all the time. Very similar is klebsiella, a bacterium that is usually found in your intestines and feces and can result in a variety of infections. Most commonly urinary tract infections and pneumonia. You can pick it up easily from infected surfaces. Prevention? Ditto to E. coli.

The Most Dangerous Bacteria

Of course, certain bacteria can cause you serious illness, even death. Dr Amesh Adalja, a physician specializing in infectious diseases at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center believes that it is upper respiratory tract infections that are the likeliest threat at gyms. He reckons the gym can boost your odds of contracting MRSA (short for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. And MRSA is a potentially deadly strain of staph that is immune to antibiotics. Prevention? Have I mentioned washing your hands like a broken record yet? Streptococcal bacteria usually causes upper respiratory infections or strep throat. There are 20 different types of strep bacteria. Strep can be very contagious and is spread through person-to-person contact, airborne droplets, doorknobs and other surfaces. High-use (and sweaty) exercise equipment, saunas, locker rooms and drinking bottles can easily harbor strep. Prevention? You can keep well away from people with persistent coughs. I think that's generally a good idea anyway. You can also avoid people with visible blisters.

What about Fungus?

Your skin can be breached by fungi. You can also breathe it in. Candida is the most common culprit in fungal infections. It is a yeast-like fungus that can lead to everything from athlete's foot (tinea pedis) to jock itch in men and yeast infections in women. Jock itch occurs in the groin area of mostly adult men and teenage boys. If you have this infection you may also have athlete's foot and or ringworm. The fungus that causes your jock itch thrives in warm, moist areas. Gross, I know, but stay with me. You can trigger jock itch with too much friction from your clothes and prolonged wetness in your groin area. Don't sit in your dirty gym clothes all day.

All fungi love warm moist areas.

So locker rooms, swimming pools and showers are the perfect environment for you to pick up some fungus. Prevention? Avoid high-density hot tubs, saunas, and steam rooms if you can – seriously. Ringworm is usually marked by ring-shaped skin rashes, usually on your toes, sometimes on your palms and between your fingers. If untreated, ringworm can escalate to blisters and severely cracked skin. Prevention? Do as you do with fungi – avoid high-density ‘wet areas’. It’s a hearty list, don't you agree? *Gulp*…

What Can You Do?

It’s not all doom and gloom in a gym, of course, and your body is adept at fighting off most infections. But let’s list a few of the things that we at Solpri believe you should do to minimize your risks of getting infections from a visit to the gym. These should include:
  1. Disinfect all the places you come into contact with both before and after using a machine, including elliptical handlebars or a bike seat.
    • According to Dr William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, “A quick wipe is sufficient. A little forethought and you can do these things automatically.”
  2. Always lay a towel down before using a bench (although that’s just common gym etiquette, right?)
  3. Always have a pair of your own shower flip-flops when in any wet area
  4. When you finish your workout you should change out of your sweaty gym clothes.
  5. According to the New York Times you should bring your own regularly cleaned mat for floor exercises – as in always
  6. Try to avoid directly using water fountains – use your own water bottles instead
  7. Most importantly, wash your hands all the time – as in continuously. Better to look like a maniacal hygiene freak than to get some nasty disease, right?!
    • We make soap specifically to address your needs as an athlete like our Shield Series soaps. Our team designed them to wash fungus and bacteria from the gym off your skin.
Ultimately, good personal hygiene when working out at the gym makes common sense. Going to the gym should mean you are healthier so you feel and look better. A gym may be a palace for all things nasty that can make you itch or get ill. But we can still have control over what havoc those nasty pathogens wreak on our bodies.
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