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New York , NY , January 2008 – You workout to stay in tip top shape not to pick up a nasty skin infection. But especially in winter, when cold winds rage outside, even the heartiest of us depend on gyms or health clubs to get our weekly dose of exercise. And as everyone knows, health clubs–where hundreds of people may be using the same equipment, showers and saunas–can harbor germs.
Most everyone walking has heard of athlete’s foot and knows you can pick that up in gym showers or even walking barefoot around damp health club floors. The solution? Wear flip-flops! And everyone knows that it’s not hard to get sick when the girl or guy who used the Stairmaster just moments before you climbed on has a raging cold. Yes, before you use shared equipment you should take a moment to wipe them down with the disinfectants many gyms now keep handy.
But this year, the bar has been raised in terms of scary germs you can contact at the gym; this year there’s talk of a sometimes deadly staph infection called Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or MRSA for short. The question is, do you really need to worry about catching MRSA at the gym?
Dr. Joshua Fox founder of Advanced Dermatology and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology, answers by saying, “No–and yes.” If that sounds more like a politician than a physician it’s only because Dr. Fox is being careful. “Last week, one of my patients called in a panic after hearing folks at her health club joke about staph infections. She wasn’t laughing. She was downright scared.” He goes on to say, “I’m glad she called so I could set her mind at ease a bit, but also so I could review with her some simple, smart ways to keep MRSA, and really any skin germs, at bay–through the winter or any time of year.”
For those who haven’t heard the news about MRSA, Dr. Fox explains: “Staph infections used to be associated with hospitals and large health care facilities. And there’s no doubt that most staph infections occur in people who’ve recently had medical procedures such as dialysis, surgery or catheters– and especially in those with weakened immunes systems. So, no, ordinarily, you need not worry about staph.
But this new variant–MRSA–has been found in recreational athletes, and is transmitted most frequently by direct skin-to-skin contact.” The Center for Disease Control notes on its website that because MRSA can move from the skin to infect the blood and bones–with potentially life threatening complications- -and because it is antibiotic-resistant, it makes sense to be a bit more careful.
In our practice we have seen the number of MRSA infections increase over the last few years It is important that antibiotics resisted only means that it is more resistant to antibiotics than normal – not that no antibiotics work against it. We have been successful treating these patients.
In fact, it is much more likely that you will contract tinea pedis (that’s latin for the fungal skin infection athlete’s foot) than a staph infection. Like other common skin diseases that show up on the feet–and that includes the fungal infection Onychomycosis or the virus plantar warts–athlete’s foot is easily treated by over-the- counter products or, for more stubborn cases, with a prescription medicine or treatment that your dermatologist can prescribe.
Avoiding any skin infection at the gym means following the advice your Mom always gave you, such as “Wash your hands before you eat!” and “Use a clean towel!” But with MRSA in the picture, Dr. Fox seconds the directives of the Centers for Disease Control has posted on its website, namely:
The good news is that these precautions–which are really just good hygiene–will not only protect you from MRSA, they should provide you with protection against such run-of-the mill skin infections as Athlete’s foot, plantar and other warts, Tinea Versacolor, Herpes Simplex, Onychomycosis–and even help you from catching a bothersome cold.
So don’t forego your workouts for fear of catching a skin disease. In fact, add an additional lift this winter: lift the antiseptic spray bottle before you jump on the Stairmaster or pick up a dumbbell that someone else has just used. And if you have questions about prevention, or a rash or bump that’s turned up anywhere on your body, call your dermatologist. As Dr. Fox says, “As a dermatologist, I’m here to both prevent and to treat skin diseases.”