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MRSA Infections Can Bug Fitness Buffs

Before heading to the gym, take simple steps to avoid the potentially deadly bacteria

WEDNESDAY, July 2 (HealthDay News) -- Before heading to the gym, you should brush up on how to protect yourself from a potentially deadly superbug, say doctors from Loyola University.

While infections from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) usually occur in hospitals and health-care settings, they are on the rise in community locales, according to Jorge Parada, director of the infection control program at Loyola University Hospital in Maywood.

"There is no doubt that MRSA and other infections can be transmitted without direct person-to-person contact," Parada said in a prepared statement. "Although it's low, it is possible to catch MRSA by using shared gym equipment like free weights or exercise cycles. The first step in preventing the spread of any type of infection is awareness of the possibility."

Generally, 5 percent to 10 percent of people are infected with MRSA. The superbug can survive for hours, even days, on the surface of gym equipment and other inanimate objects, Parada said.

"If we were dealing with something that virtually nobody had, then it wouldn't be a big deal," Parada said. "The problem with the MRSA epidemic in the community is you don't know when you're going to touch something that somebody with MRSA touched."

The benefits of exercise outweigh the risks of catching MRSA, so Parada suggests taking these precautions:

  • Use clothing or a towel as a barrier between your skin and shared equipment, such as weight-training machines, wrestling or yoga mats, and sauna and locker room benches.
  • Insist your gym have antiseptic wipes readily available to clean equipment before and after each use.
  • Cover any open wounds or sores with a bandage before working out. Keep the area clean.
  • Never share personal items such as towels, clothing, swim wear, combs, soap, shampoo or shaving gear.
  • Inquire how high-touch areas and equipment are being cleaned, how often and what type of cleanser is being used. If the gym provides towels, customers need to know if the gym washes and dries them in temperatures high enough to kill MRSA.

Finally, practice good personal hygiene in and out of the gym.

"Washing your hands a number of times a day is the best defense we have against MRSA infections. That simple act trumps everything else that you can do," Alex Tomich, an infection control practitioner at Loyola University Medical Center, said in a prepared statement. "And you should always make sure to shower after every workout."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about MRSA.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: Loyola University Health System, news release, June 11, 2008

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