Many people choose what gym they go to based on cleanliness. Sure, good gym equipment is important, but so is having machines that are washed from top to bottom with the best cleaning products. Unfortunately, that attention to sanitation doesn’t change the fact that fitness facilities are breeding grounds for fungus and bacteria. In fact, some of the most despicable conditions you can think of can be picked up while you are working on your fitness.
Here are just a few scary conditions you can pick up from the gym. You might want to sit down.
Staph is a real jerk in that it’s both difficult to detect, and can transfer to your skin super easily. Sure, many healthy people have staphylococcus in their nose and on their skin, and it’s totally fine. But according to PBS, a percentage of those people carry the antibiotic-resistant strand MRSA, which is responsible for about 19,000 deaths per year. To make matters worse, staph can be transferred between people by the carrier simply wiping their nose and then touching something. That “something” can often be the exercise equipment and towels at the gym.
Livestrong.com advises to take your own towels to the gym, and to keep all cuts or scratches covered so the bacteria can’t find a way into your body.
This condition can be caught at the gym for an extra disgusting reason: Someone didn’t wash their hands after using the bathroom. This virus, carried by fecal matter and blood, can travel through the air and be ingested through the mouth. The result? Inflammation of the liver.
Mayo Clinic informs us that there is no available treatment for Hepatitis A. It can be cured however, as the body can rid itself of the virus on its own. Unfortunately, that process can take up to six months.
Have you ever shared a sweaty yoga mat with someone? Hopefully you wiped it down so you didn’t get this nasty bacterial infection. Folliculitis attacks the follicles on your chest and back, and causes you to breakout in a gross red rash. (You can also get folliculitis from the gym hot tub, which gives the bacteria a breeding ground around your swimsuit area.) The infection can be treated with topical antibiotics, but requires oral medicine if the rash is too severe.
The well-known STD is scary enough. But the fact that you can get it without having sex? Even freakier. It has been found in recent years that human papillomavirus can spread if you come in contact with an unsanitary surface. And there aren’t too many surfaces as unsanitary as the bike seat you sit on at the gym.
Again, this is where it is important to bring your own towels and take extra measures to wipe everything down both before and after you use it.
You have probably heard many warnings about ringworm before. This is because the fungus thrives in hot, wet conditions, making the gym a prime oasis for this infectious pest. Dirty cardio equipment, sweaty mats, previously used exercise balls — they all serve as homes for the tinea fungus, which results in ringworm.
As Livestrong.com explains, prevention and treatment is basic. Wearing dry clothes to workout in, and quickly showering with an anti-fungal wash post-workout can help keep ringworm at bay. Another big preventative step is to not come in contact with other sweaty gym patrons — reserve hugs and handshakes for after gym time. Should you get ringworm, topical medications are available.
If you have ever walked around the gym barefoot, even in the shower, you have exposed yourself to athlete’s foot. This icky fungus likes to make its way onto your feet and cause flaky, itchy skin. Additionally, as Tsippora Shainhouse, M.D. tells Women’s Health, the trauma to feet caused by jamming them into exercise bike stirrups can cause the toenail to lift. (This gives the athlete’s foot fungus a way of getting in under your nails.)
Take preventative measures by always wearing dry socks and shoes. And if you do come down with this itchy condition, there are topical solutions that can help you get rid of it.
Cold and flu
This should be a no-brainer: Don’t go to the gym when you’re sick. And anyone that goes to the gym claiming they “aren’t contagious” deserves to be thrown out onto the street. According to WebMD, cold germs can last on a surface for up to three hours. So if someone with a cold doesn’t wipe down the treadmill after they use it, and at least three other people have touched the same machine within a three hour span, we have a problem.
Carry antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer in your gym bag — and avoid touching your face and mouth as best you can.