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What the Yuck: Gym machine germs
June 24th, 2011
08:02 AM ET

What the Yuck: Gym machine germs

Too embarrassed to ask your doctor about sex, body quirks, or the latest celeb health fad? In a regular feature and a new book, "What the Yuck?!," Health magazine medical editor Dr. Roshini Raj tackles your most personal and provocative questions. Send 'em to Dr. Raj at whattheyuck@health.com.

Q: What's the worst thing you can catch from the machines at the gym?

Probably the worst thing is the staph bacteria MRSA (short for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), the "superbug" that can cause a very aggressive and difficult-to-treat skin infection, which can invade the blood.

This bug, which is resistant to most kinds of antibiotics, is spread through close contact - athletes on a sports team sometimes spread it to each other. What's scary is it can survive on gym machines between users. Wipe the equipment off with an antibacterial wipe before using it.

And if you have any open sores or wounds or skin irritation, stay away from the machines because your broken skin will make you more vulnerable to contracting something.

Copyright Health Magazine 2011


soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. duh

    Isn't using antibacterial sanitizer what causes the super bug in the first place? Who is writing this article anyways, a child?

    June 24, 2011 at 10:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • NotAPawn

      Yeah, that's pretty much what I was going to say. If people just tried wiping stuff down with normal soap and water, you'd have less bacteria, and you wouldn't create superbugs. Or just wear workout gloves.

      June 24, 2011 at 13:11 | Report abuse |
    • Christina

      Dilute bleach solution or alcohol are what should be used. The super bugs descend from antibiotic overuse and misuse, which are sadly sometimes found in cleaning agents.

      June 24, 2011 at 16:32 | Report abuse |
    • zees

      Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is not caused by hand sanitizer overuse. It is due to a variety of factors, including over-prescribed antibiotics or even people who stop taking a full regimen of antibiotics when prescribed – which allows bacteria such as staph to become resistant. The CDC recommends that alcohol-based sanitizer be used in athletic settings for prevention of MRSA or other infections, so this article is in fact correct and not written by a child.

      June 24, 2011 at 22:12 | Report abuse |
  2. Bucktooth

    I work out six days a week! The club I belong to has wipe towels everywhere and people do use them! I use towels before I touch the cardio equipment, and cover the back of the seat of the machines with a regular towel provided by the club. I also wash my hands as soon as I get home. Some people don't do anything, and those are the dangerous people!

    June 24, 2011 at 10:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dc mortimer

      I usually have a shower in the gym before I leave so I dont have to wash my hands when I go home , LOL .

      June 24, 2011 at 12:23 | Report abuse |
  3. Mike

    People are way too germ crazy. You probably have better odds of getting struck by lightning while riding a great white shark that's jumping over a unicorn than getting sick from gym equipment. A healthy human body needs germs, in order to build antibodies. The human race would have never survived and grown to 7 billion people if this were the case. I never use those antibacterial sanitizers, as I do believe they do more harm than good.

    June 24, 2011 at 11:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ross

      "You probably have better odds of getting struck by lightning while riding a great white shark that's jumping over a unicorn than getting sick from gym equipment"

      Really? You think so? You believe that you have a better chance of those things happening than you do of getting sick from using machines that are used by dozens of sweaty people? Your exagerration undermines your argument.

      June 24, 2011 at 14:40 | Report abuse |
    • Ken

      Wow, so let's see, dozens of football players have been infected with MRSA over the past few seasons, almost all in outbreak pattern. The gym exposure was the probable culprit. So by your math, there must have been quite a few unicorn sightings last year.

      Gyms have bacteria. You're probably not going to get sick unless you have an open cut (which many people have when working on certain lifting machines and free weights). If you get a non-healing wound despite neosporin, consult a phyician for probable MRSA coverage. It's not killing thousands of gym members. But to ignore it is silly.

      June 24, 2011 at 16:39 | Report abuse |
  4. OCD (not!)

    You know, there's this natural protection that we all have - It's called skin!

    June 24, 2011 at 11:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ken

      Yes, and there are natural things called cuts and abrasions that break the skin. Just be aware that gyms are not the cleanest place - wash your hands before and after using equipment for the day. Not a big behavior change required.

      June 24, 2011 at 16:41 | Report abuse |
  5. dc mortimer

    You have to be aware of cuts , I knew some one who got septicemia in a gym through an open wound , they nearly died .

    June 24, 2011 at 12:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Lincoln

    People get obsessive about sweat from someone else's backside, but that's probably the least germ-laden form of sweat. What you really need to watch out for is the surfaces that have hand contact. Not only do hands have a lot more germs than someone's back, they are also more likely to have open wounds such as torn callouses. Anything with a handle is suspect. Dumbells and barbells are the items least likely to be cleaned on a regular basis by most self-service discount gyms. Ask your gym manager when was the last time they cleaned the barbells with disinfectant – if it's like the Gold's Gym I used to belong to the answer is never. But they cleaned the upholstery every night.

    June 24, 2011 at 12:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • M-Colorado

      If I use your logic, you don't mind if I handle my sweaty junk and then make you a sandwich, do you?

      June 25, 2011 at 08:50 | Report abuse |
  7. Howie

    Stupidest advice ever. Germs are good for you. They help build your immune system so something minor doesn't kill you. Germaphobes are their own worst enemy. Sure there is an 'ick' factor if the equipment is all wet and slimy, so wipe it with an absorbent cloth towel and work out. The antibacterial stuff is what is going to kill you.

    June 24, 2011 at 12:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joseph

      My sentiments exactly! I like to lick random equipment....just to live dangerously! ;)

      June 24, 2011 at 22:54 | Report abuse |
    • Raed

      I study MRSA for a living. It is a virulent, nasty, hard to kill bacteria. The USA 300 strain is becoming more and more common especially on gym equipment and planes.

      To say that this is good for you is a reflection on your ignorance. Yes we need to have contact with less dangerous "germs" to build our own immune system. But MRSA is not one of those. It can be fatal, and the reporting of serious infections are coming from direct contact of community shared equipment.

      There is more fatalities from MRSA each year in the USA from AIDS and the Flu combined. Do not underestimate it and its ability to attack into any small abrasion you might overlook.

      June 25, 2011 at 19:19 | Report abuse |
    • Scott Wolf

      Blue wavelength light, around 420nm, kills MERSA

      June 26, 2011 at 20:57 | Report abuse |
  8. donald

    I use two towels – one (bar towel) to wipe the equipment, one (hand towel) to wipe my face. The towels are different sizes to prevent confusion.

    June 24, 2011 at 12:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Marcus

    Well, that was a waste of cyberspace.

    June 24, 2011 at 14:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Andrew

    I contracted MRSA by engaging in unprotected showering at the local YMCA. My entry point was athlete's foot. It is an issue and it left untreated MRSA can possibly kill you. I was on IV antibiotics for a couple weeks after my initial hospital stay and it's all cleared up now, but I also spread it to my family. So now we have to monitor any kind of abnormal looking growth or infected pimple or whatever. So taking a couple casual precautions like wearing flip-flops in the shower at the local gym is a good idea.

    June 24, 2011 at 15:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. vance odonnell

    stay home...encase yourself in a plastic bubble...order take out...then nuke it to be sure it is dead..have a nice day

    June 24, 2011 at 16:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Tyler Durden

    another excuse to lay up on the couch and eat big macs insead of working out. awesome!

    June 24, 2011 at 16:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. M-Colorado

    Poorly written article indeed.... people expect the gym employees to clean after them on the tread mills, and other equipment. The weights and dumbbells are never cleaned, so they have to be the worse. Most of the problem lies with people not being considerate and washing their hands on a frequent basis. While many have the arguement that they did not touch their mouth, P on their hands, or did not sweat, you still are spreading your bacteria to communial equipment and bathing area. I am going with the arguement that I did not P on my hands or fingers. But if you think about it, I just went to the bathroom, handled "my junk" and now am touching something that you might use. Be considerate people, wash your hands frequently and clean after YOURSELF or please provide your parents phone number so we can contact them to let them know they need to come and clean after their adult child as they are failing this mundane task.

    June 24, 2011 at 17:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Chris

    Also warts

    June 24, 2011 at 18:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Bill

    I think a bigger concern is the use of public toilets.

    June 24, 2011 at 18:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. heila

    I use alcohol or Mueller Whizzer disinfectant to wipe the machine before i use it. These are the sprays I also use at work after my clients used the equipments.

    June 25, 2011 at 04:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. John

    You do need to take some precautions while at the gym. My dermatologist told me that gyms/fitness centers are extremely nasty. A lot of gyms/fitness centers, including the some of the larger corporate chains, are using their staff to do the cleaning instead of having a professional clean and disinfect nightly. According to my dermatologist, you are not so likely to contract "flesh-eating", antibiotic resistant bacteria, etc. However, yeast related infections (Tinea, etc.), herpes, warts (PPV) can be easily contracted in a gym/fitness center. His advice is do not wear tanktops, etc., i.e. cover up.

    June 25, 2011 at 08:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Candace

    One more reason why I love my home gym equipment!!

    June 25, 2011 at 08:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Moze

    The thing that bothers me most is when people use the machines, sweat all over them as they use them, then just walk away without wiping down the machine. You see this in even the most expensive clubs that cater to people who are supposedly highly educated. It's disgusting. I always spray an alcohol base cleaner on before I use them, then wipe down the machine afterwards. It takes longer to work out, but is worth it.

    June 25, 2011 at 11:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Other Side Of The Hill

    MRSA (flesh eating disease) can kill you, but the scariest is the possibillity it might maim you. How about losing all of the underlying tissue in a limb because the docs can't control the advance of the disease? How does an amputation strike you? And, you will take MRSA home to infect your family, some of whom won't be able to shake it off like you might. MRSA is not a myth and happens more frequently than you hear. Be aware of the Super Bugs and protect yourself. These not are the run of the mill germs that build immunity.

    June 25, 2011 at 12:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Gary Procopio

    Heard of someone at my gym contacting MRSA by sitting in the jacuzzi. Signs all over the place to shower first, but people think it's a bathtub.

    June 25, 2011 at 18:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. byron

    The medical establishment will never want you to know this but keep a bottle of colloidal silver handy. You can make it yourself really cheap...40 ppm is a potent dose. Wipe your hands with it and drink a few ounces per day. It has be shown scientifically that no germ, virus, bacteria or fungus can live or survive in a colloidal silver saturated in-vitro-petri dish for more than 6 minutes... hundreds of other human anecdotal studies. My dentist was going to drill my tooth for a small cavity but after using colloidal silver 2x a day swishing it in my mouth for about 15 minutes, the cavity disappeared after 6 weeks. Saved a few bucks since I don't have insurance.

    June 26, 2011 at 05:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • 4mercy

      And you have seen the photos of people who ingest this silver on a regular basis, right? Aren't they the people who turn bluish purple? No thanks.

      June 26, 2011 at 14:25 | Report abuse |
  23. bob

    Google "colloidal silver blue man" and you'll see a real-life Papa Smurf. This guy was drinking colloidal silver I believe. I don't know what other side effects the silver may cause, but if we (humans) start using it en mass (like we have with antibiotics) the law of unintended side effects will certainly come into play.

    June 26, 2011 at 05:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. gym user

    bleach baths help
    soak in your tub with about 1/2 cup of bleach for about 10 minutes, about 1-2 times per week.
    similar concentration to a swimming pool. helps with eczema and keep the staph in check.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Punchline

    If you don't go to the gym you get a really unattractive infection called gloppy sloppy fat. Fortunately it's just a visual emetic and not toxic to others like smoking.

    June 26, 2011 at 13:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Laurie

    As a MRSA survivor (systemic infection - had to have emergency surgery) I can tell you this one is no laughing matter. I almost died. I take a saniwipe everywhere I go now and would not sit on any piece of gym equipment without disinfecting it first. If you have any openings on your skin you are vulnerable to whatever wants to invade you.

    June 26, 2011 at 15:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. A

    My gym has those antibacterial wipe dispensers. There are signs that say 'one towel is good for 4-5 uses'. No. That's begging for cross-contamination. I use one for each machine.

    June 27, 2011 at 00:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Dawn

    Thats why I use PhitGrip! It's an antimicrobial workout grip that is nonslip, better than gloves!

    June 27, 2011 at 15:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. sites

    Excellent site. Plenty of useful info here. I'm sending it to some buddies ans additionally sharing in delicious. And certainly, thanks in your effort!

    August 3, 2012 at 00:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. bestgyme

    True said that we get the super bug from any place whether it is our gym or home. Best way to protect ourselves from these is keep yourself neat & clean, wash your hand before eating, don't touch the dirty things etc.

    October 5, 2012 at 01:49 | Report abuse | Reply

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