WMBF Investigates the Dirt: Where germs lie at the gym - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

WMBF Investigates the Dirt: Where germs lie at the gym

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - You hit the gym regularly to be fit and healthy, but you may be getting more than you bargained for.

Cardio equipment, free weights, jump ropes and ab mats, they all have something in common: they help keep you fit. That's not the only similarity between them: they also can all carry germs.

One thing's for sure, when you hit fitness centers, it's all hands-on. Kylie Smith is an avid gym-goer. She knows,whatever she touches, she's probably not just picking germs up, but also leaving germs behind. In order to leave the gym with a good workout, and nothing more, Kylie puts her health in her own hands.

“I think the main thing is, it's my personal responsibility,” said Smith. I wash my hands before I leave, always take a shower after the gym, to get all the germs off. I think besides that, there's not much else to it.”

Judy Langfitt, Owner of Core Fitness says, there is much more to it. Along with bringing in a professional cleaning crew several times a week, employees at Core have a checklist they need to follow, several times a day. Doctors recommend you go into a gym with your own checklist.

First and foremost, use antibacterial solution on your hands before and after your workout. Also, cover any cuts or broken skin with a bandage, before you pick up any weights.

Don't assume someone wiped down that equipment before you. Giving an extra spray down can only help. Dr. Pangia, Director of Emergency Medicine at Grand Strand Medical Center, said the best disinfectants have a concentration of 70 percent alcohol, but. Since most bottles are unlabeled, don't be afraid to ask what's inside.

Since we're bound to sweat with every stride, you may want to also bring a bag with some more of your own items, like a towel, Pilates mat and gloves.

“Bathrooms are treated as such dirty places and they're cleaned so frequently that sometimes the cleanest thing you can find in a gym is a toilet seat,” said Dr. Pangia.

He also said that doesn't necessarily mean the shower is clean, so it's a good idea to pack your own flip-flops if you're going to hop in. Either way, make sure you shower as soon as you can, so you don't take the germs home with you.

The flu, staph, strep, MRSA - if it lives on you, it can live at the gym. So, what do we need to do to make sure we leave all those germs behind?

WMBF News Reporter Jenna DeAgelis went undercover in several fitness centers in our area, to see, just how clean they really are. She swabbed a barbell, an elliptical machine, astroTurf and an ab machine. Then, carefully packaged the samples, and shipped them off to a lab in North Carolina, to be tested.

Staphylococcus aureus, commonly called just “staph,” showed up in the test from this ab machine in a local gym.

“These are the bacteria we have on us all the time, we need them there, we want them there, they're all over us, they're going to be all over the gym,” said Dr. Pangia.

So what's the harm? When you have a cut or open wound, staph can enter it and cause infections, which can lead to other health problems.

Although, we didn't pick it up in our tests, Dr. Pangia says ringworm and MRSA can spread throughout gym, just like the flu can spread in an outbreak.

“You have to remember you need a very large amount of these microbes to be ingested or to go into your nose or your mouth for you to actually catch the disease,” said Dr. Pangia.

When it comes to the other samples we collected at area gyms, they came back bacteria-free.

Dr. Pangia said there could be two explanations for this: One, gym employees are doing their job, keeping clean. Two, bacteria needs moisture to survive. The trouble comes when you sweat on a machine, don't wipe it off, and someone else hops on, especially when it comes to bacteria which is a bit harder to kill, like MRSA.

At the end of the day, you can't guarantee every surface you touch, in and out of the gym, is clean. That's why doctors say, exercise can be your disinfectant, on its own.

“The best way to stay healthy, is to be healthy, to go to the gym, go running, be a healthy person because that far and away will make you much more able to fight off infections,” said Dr. Pangia. “If you're really worried about being exposed, then clean off the equipment and don't share things with other people, but at the end of the day, if you're going to the gym, you're much better off than if you didn't.”

If you pick up germs and get an infection, it's your job to hold gyms accountable. The South Carolina Department of Health says it does not actively inspect gyms, it only comes out if a complaint is made.

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