How To Avoid Gym Germs

When you grab a set of weights, hold the treadmill’s handrails or hit the mat to stretch, do you ever stop and think about all of the other gym goers who have done exactly the same thing?
If not, dermatologists say, you should.
While logging a half-hour of circuit training will obviously do your body good, touching equipment that might have been recently handled by another sweaty, sick or infected person could do the opposite. And athlete’s foot is just the beginning.
In Pictures: How To Avoid Gym Germs
Experts warn that if you’re using a shared yoga mat, for example, you could be at risk for ringworm, which causes red, scaly rings on the skin’s surface. Coming into contact with sweat left behind on a machine could lead to a staph infection, usually manifesting in the form of pimples or boils. If not treated properly, it can invade the bloodstream.

“I don’t want people to avoid going to the gym, because it’s a healthful activity,” says Dr. Joshua Fox, founder of the New York-based practice Advanced Dermatology and a spokesman for the American Academy of Dermatology. “But you have to prepare and use common sense.”
Rosemary Lavery, a spokeswoman for the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) , says the organization isn’t aware of any documented cases in which someone has contracted the sometimes deadly staph infection methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus from a gym. MRSA is transmitted most frequently by skin-to-skin contact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But, to be safe, the nonprofit group aimed at promoting the health club industry recently re-released a list of tips and tactics to help its 5,600 U.S. member clubs prevent staph and MRSA infections. They include providing disinfecting wipes or spray for cleaning equipment, using a bleach solution when laundering club towels and encouraging gym goers to do their part, too.
Rules To Live By
If you belong to a gym–and there are 42.7 million of you, according to 2006 IHRSA statistics–adding a few steps to your routine can reduce your risk of catching something.
Start by covering up any open wounds or scrapes with antibiotic ointment and a bandage, says Dr. Kent Aftergut, a member of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery and a clinical instructor of dermatology at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. MRSA is thought to spread more easily among athletes who have frequent skin-to-skin contact, entering the body through uncovered abrasions.
You also might want to start bringing your own towels or mat if you’re unsure of your gym’s cleaning regimen. Some gear companies now offer products specifically designed to fight germs. Harbinger Fitness, for instance, just introduced an antimicrobial mat featuring a unique material that prevents bacterial growth and odor and doesn’t wear off, in addition to the already popular FlexFit, a training glove made with antimicrobial mesh.
Once you finish your workout, get out of your hot and sweaty clothes as quickly as possible. They’re the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, Aftergut says. If you don’t have time for a shower, at least wash your hands or wipe them down with hand gel that you keep in your bag or car.
It’s also worth it to keep an eye on your skin. If it’s constantly irritated or looks like it might be infected, get it checked out.
“Staph [infections] used to be kind of a rare problem,” Aftergut says. “Now we’re seeing it in young, healthy people. The average person goes to the gym without any concern for that.”

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