MRSA infections: razor blades on the floor

So you’ve decided to get into shape and join the local health club? No one can fault that idea. But remember, there are pluses and minuses to most things in life, including health clubs, that result in unintended consequences.

Health clubs by necessity have a large number of hot, perspiring, less than clean bodies. So you don’t need to be an infectious disease specialist to know there’s potential infection everywhere. This means that precautionary measures must be taken seriously by the health club, its clients and, particularly you.

It’s hard to decipher the brains of some people. For instance, a female patient of mine stopped going to a fitness center in downtown Toronto. She was tired of repeatedly finding used razor blades on the floor of the shower. This was an expensive upscale club used by the so-called elite of the city! Mother should have taught them better.

But the big problem today is the possibility of contacting a staphylococcal infection, particularly a methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. MRSA staph infections are usually picked up by exposure to dirty towels, mats and gym equipment. A lack of individual hygiene often triggers these infections.

For instance, my female patient passed along another hygienic tidbit to me. She informed me that few of the women at the club bothered to wipe off equipment after using it. It’s the old story “let someone else do it”.

So never assume it’s been done. Good sense also means placing a towel over mats, never sharing towels and washing hands often with an alcohol-based spray or wipe.

MRSA infections are usually transferred through small open cuts or wounds. But there may not be any significant warning sign of infection. For some people the symptoms can resemble the flu, associated with mild fever. Others develop a rash or a large pimple, which increases in size, becomes painful and produces pus and if the infection enters the blood stream it can be fatal. So seek medical attention if there’s any doubt.

What about a dip in the club’s swimming pool? The majority of health club pools are well supervised and tested for bacterial contamination. But outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness due to bacteria and viral infections can occur if hygienic standards are not followed.

For instance, the U.S. Center for Disease Control reported in May 2010 that 3,666 health clubs in 13 U.S. states were inspected by health authorities. This resulted in closure of 10% of the health club pools. Inadequate circulation, poor filtration systems and faulty disinfection procedures were the main problems.

One wonders how many people use the bathroom, fail to wash their hands, and then enter the pool.

Don’t forget to wear adequate eye protection if you’re playing tennis, squash and racquetball. North Americans suffer about 45,000 eye injuries a year during recreational activities.

It’s not surprising that catastrophic injuries occur, sometimes causing blindness, when balls strike the eye at a speed of from 50 to 110 miles an hour.

Remember too that if you place too much on the camel’s back it eventually lies down. The same event can happen to muscles and tendons. It can occur even if you are working with a professional trainer.

One of my 60-year-old patients decided it was time to get in shape. She hired a trainer as a precaution. This is usually a prudent move. But at each visit to my office she confided with pride that more and more weights were being added each week to her leg exercises. I thought she was pushing her luck at her age and advised her that overwork and too much weight might cause injury. It did. She was left with permanent muscle damage that made walking more difficult.

Before joining a health club, see your doctor for a checkup, particularly if you suffer from risk factors such as heart disease, asthma, other chronic conditions and are no longer 16 years of age. Then enjoy, but watch for razor blades in showers.

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