Scourge of the gym germs

    The first couple of weeks back, everyone is in full attendance of classes; refreshed from the semester break. However, a few weeks in, we start to notice more people out of classes, or hearing more sniffling and coughing. I know I hear professors make comments such as “so and so is sick”.

    Our community is small and we share a lot of places with each other that make it easy for germs to travel and make people ill. One place that is shared among a good chunk of the campus is the Tarrant Gym. The equipment is shared amongst the students, faculty and staff, and community members. With all the people that are using the gym, the equipment can become a breeding ground for sharing bacteria and viruses, but are people wiping off the equipment that they are using?

    There are three gyms on campus. One is the Varsity Weight Room, located above the basketball court; another is the Tarrant gym (that has a track, running machines, and weights); then there is the Dion gym, which is mainly running machines. The Tarrant Gym is the largest of the three, and used more by the students looking for a combination of weightlifting and cardio; I personally use this gym the most. At any given time, there are a few people on the track, people using running machines, and people using the weights. At one point, I began to notice that some people do not wipe down their equipment. We do have a custodial squad that cleans up after the gym closes, but it should not be that person’s job to disinfect every single workout machine on campus.

    “The main problem with not wiping down gym equipment after you use it is spreading sickness and germs”, said Abigail Keough, a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) at St. Michael’s College. “Especially during this time where things like strep throat and the stomach flu are making the rounds, we should be washing and disinfecting our hands as much as possible.”

    Indeed, you can get respiratory and skin infections from attending a public gym according to the Clinical Biology Newsletter, written by Alice Schauer Weissfeld, Ph. D. The newsletter states “influenza and other viral infections, e.g., rhinovirus, are contagious and can spread from person to person by inhalation of respiratory droplets expelled during coughing or sneezing.”

    Weissfeld writes, in regards to skin diseases, “sweat left to dry on equipment is also a breeding ground for bacteria. Bacteria thrive on used towels, on locker room floors, weights, cardio machines, benches, elliptical machine handlebars, bike seats, dumbbells, and yoga mats.”

    Some skin infections that could be found on gym equipment are: Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Human papillomavirus (HPV), and Ringworm. MRSA can come in the form of small pimples or large boils on the skin. HPV is the cause of plantar warts on the feet and hands (these are different then the HPV that causes genital warts). Ringworm, or athlete’s foot,  is a fungal disease that causes flaking, itching, and blistering of the feet. There are of course more infections that can be found around the gym.

    As someone who uses the gym quite frequently, I do not want to get these infections, nor do I want to spread them. On a recent Wednesday, I realized that I was coughing into my hand and then touching the treadmill. After my run was finished the treadmill was also dripping with sweat, so I took 30 seconds to walk across the room, get a disinfectant wipe and wipe down the treadmill and the sweat and bacteria that was left there. I noticed many people did not wipe down their running machines or weights after they used them.

    Andy Eames, physical therapist and ATC at the Edge in Williston, sees the same thing at his facility. “In this case, sharing is not caring,” chuckled Eames. “It is just like washing your hands after you use the bathroom.”

    As someone who uses the gym frequently, I feel that it is our responsibility to keep our campus healthy anywhere we can. It takes seconds to wipe down a piece of gym equipment and I would rather take seconds out of my life than two weeks to heal from illnesses or infections.