Have you ever noticed that person at the gym who is dripping with sweat as he or she works out on the equipment? Yes, this is same person who doesn’t wipe down the equipment or does so with a drenched towel that just spreads the perspiration around.  Every gym has a few of these people.

Our bodies are excellent at getting rid of toxins, including germs and viruses. Skin is our largest organ and when we perspire we are dumping toxins through thousands of pores. At the gym, every surface can become a receptacle for ours and other people’s germs. All the machines, free weights, mats and balls, pools, floors, and the locker rooms are breeding grounds for the waste products from our bodies.

Touching anything with bare skin can leave you open to picking up an infection or even a parasite. Here are some of the common skin infections to be aware of.

Staphylococcus Aureus (Staph) and MRSA
Staph is a bacteria that can be transferred from the skin and nose to any surface. Staph is known to be resilient and can live a long time. MRSA is a very resistant form of staph bacteria that does not respond to most antibiotics.

  • The most common way you can get a staph infection is if you have an open cut or sore and come in contact with the live bacteria.
  • It often manifests as a boil or rash accompanied by a fever that requires medical attention.

Athlete’s Foot
Athlete’s foot is actually ringworm that is caused by a fungal infection. It is commonly found between the toes and manifests as a round, scaly rash with peeling skin. If left untreated, it can spread to the nails, requiring prescription medication.

One can easily pick up ringworm by walking barefoot in the locker room shower area or around a pool. Ringworm fungus thrives in moist areas.

Plantar Warts
Plantar warts are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). Like, athlete’s foot, this virus lives in moist areas.

  • The warts generally show up on the balls of the feet as hard, raised bumps with black dots. They are unattractive and annoying.
  • They can also appear on the palms of your hands, say from the padded handles of a spin bike or treadmill that are wet.

The folliculitis bacteria make a home in warm water. Poorly maintained or not properly chlorinated hot tubs and swimming pools are notorious sources of the rash that is caused by this bacterium. The bacteria get into the pores where your hair follicles are and cause a red rash that is also itchy. You will often see this appear beneath the areas that your bathing suit was covering.

Impetigo from Strep
Streptococcal bacteria are highly contagious and generally cause a strep throat infection. Strep can spread from direct skin contact, wet towels, or by touching equipment that has been sneezed on by someone with the infection. In addition to possibly getting a throat infection, you can develop a red, pus-filled, blistered body rash called impetigo. Impetigo can also be caused by staphylococcus bacteria.

How you can Protect Yourself
You can’t rely on the cleaning crew to sterilize every surface in the gym. Nor can you expect that your gym mates will be respectful and follow the rules of cleaning up after themselves or staying home if they are seriously ill. But, there are some precautions you can take to avoid picking up a skin infection. Here are few ideas.

  • Before you even join a gym, check it out and ask questions about how often the space is cleaned and the pools/tubs are maintained. Hand sanitizers, wipes, disinfectant sprays, and paper towels should be conveniently placed throughout the gym and locker rooms.
  • Wear shoes at all times, including flip flops in the shower.
  • Bandage up any cuts, scrapes, or open sores you may have.
  • Wipe down any piece of equipment, mat, ball, or weight before you use it.
  • Wash your hands as soon as you finish working out.
  • As soon as you get home, toss your gym clothes and towel into the washing machine and then a hot clothes dryer.

Follow these basic but important rules when working out at the gym so you not only enjoy your exercise regimen and get great results but also stay away from infections that are easy to catch in gym, public pool, etc.

For more information, visit Careworks.

Author:  Lia Crispell, CRNP