As much as you love going to the gym (well, most of the time), it’s hard not to freak about the cesspool of germs coating every inch of the place.
And not to sound all alarmist or anything, but catching a cold or flu bug from your fave treadmill may be the least of your problems.
New research from Fitrated has found some free weights can harbour up to 362 times more germs than a toilet seat!
They also found 70% of the bacteria they found was potentially harmful to humans. Oh dear.
Get ready to bust out your finest hazmat suit because these are just some of the germs you can pick up from your gym:
Athlete’s Foot and Nail Fungus
“Fungus is all over the gym, and it’s easy to pick up when walking barefoot around pools, as well as in showers and change rooms,” says Tsippora Shainhouse, M.D., board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills. “This can lead to white scaly skin on the sides and bottoms of your feet, mushy white skin between your toes, and thick yellow infected toenails, the latter of which are very difficult to treat.”
Plus, fans of the treadmill or bike tend to bang their toes and toenails on the fronts of their shoes. “This trauma can lift the nail from the nail bed and offers up a great opportunity for fungus to get under the nail and essentially ‘move in,'” says Shainhouse.
Treatment is available in the form of topical and oral antifungals, but the best thing you can do is stop these nasty issues before they start: Always wear shoes around the gym, and always keep your feet clean and dry.
This bacteria thrives in warm water and is famous for hanging out in hot tubs. It can cause hot tub folliculitis, a hair follicle infection that strikes in the form of an icky red-itchy-bumpy rash, says Debra Jaliman, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets From a Top New York Dermatologist.
It may be worse in the areas where your bathing suit was in contact with your skin. You can nix the rash by mixing half white vinegar with half cool water and making compresses, then applying them to the area for 15 minutes twice a day, suggests Jaliman.
You can also use a topical hydrocortisone cream for the itching, but if either of these don’t work, you may need to see your dermatologist for antibiotics. “The only way to avoid this rash is to go into a hot tub that has the proper chlorine levels [between 1.0 and 3.0 parts per million] and make certain that you take off your bathing suit and shower right after going into a hot tub,” says Jaliman.
Cold and Flu Virus
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cold and flu viruses can live on the skin for up to three hours and on a surface for up to four. “This means that any shared gym equipment—think spin bike handlebars, treadmill keypads, free weights—can harbour the virus that causes your next cold or flu,” says Shainhouse.
To reduce your risk of catching a virus, wipe down equipment before using it, don’t touch your nose or mouth while working out, and wash your hands when you’re done, adds Shainhouse.
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Its street name is staph, and it’s a bacteria that lives on the skin and in the nose. “It can transfer to gym equipment if you wipe your nose or have it on your skin,” says Shainhouse. “If the next person to use the equipment has a break in their skin, the staph bacteria can get in and cause a bumpy rash, boil, or full-on skin swelling and fevers.”
Staph infections are usually mild, the exception being MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), a more aggressive staph strain that’s resistant to antibiotics. But don’t fret: There are still certain antibiotics it will respond to, so make sure to check in with your doc for a prescription if a staph infection strikes.
“Human papilloma virus is a family of viruses that can cause plantar warts [one shown above],” says Randy Wexler, M.D., associate professor of family medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “It can be spread by skin-to-skin contact or from walking around barefoot in bathrooms and showers.”
Make sure to wear flip flops when walking around these areas—and if plantar warts do crop up, check in with your doc to have them removed.
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“Strep bacteria are extremely contagious and can be spread through skin contact, airborne droplets, and surfaces like exercise equipment,” says Joel Schlessinger, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and president of LovelySkin. “Aside from causing strep throat, these bacteria can also lead to skin infections and blisters.”
While minor strep infections usually get better on their own, skin infections and more serious infections (like pneumonia) need to be treated with a round of antibiotics.
E. coli and Hepatitis A
“These are a bacteria and virus, respectively, that are transmitted by fecal-oral routes,” says Shainhouse. Translation: You can get sick by ingesting poop bacteria. If someone doesn’t wash their hands after using the bathroom or doesn’t wipe very well, these germs set up shop on the equipment and can spread when an unsuspecting person touches their mouth during their sweat sesh.
Both E. coli and hepatitis A cause mild to severe symptoms—cramps, diarrhoea, vomiting. When it comes to E. coli, it’s usually a case of waiting for the agonising symptoms to pass (but should they escalate, head to the hospital). If you suspect you’ve been exposed to hepatitis A, getting a hep-A vaccine within two weeks may protect you from a full-on infection, according to the Mayo Clinic—and if you start experiencing symptoms, check in with your doc for an action plan.
This article originally appeared on womenshealthmag.com.
Interested in more healthy science news? Here’s why science says wine won’t ruin your workouts and why you feel anxious after drinking alcohol.