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Keeping Your Club Healthy

Recently, “PrimeTime Live” reported finding these germs on equipment in a health club: Staphylococcus, E, Coli, Candida, Diptheroids, and Streptococcus Viridans. Your members can unknowingly be carriers of these germs, and can transfer them onto equipment by skin contact, sweat, or by an item like a towel. There they can spread to other members who use the same equipment. If the member touches his face or an open wound with his hand or with a towel that was used to wipe the machinery, illness can result. This issue has become an increasing concern for club members and owners alike.

A new strain of Staphylococcus (Staph), called MRSA, has been in the news recently, and poses an even greater health threat to health clubs. MRSA is short for Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. This bacterium is resistant to one of the strongest antibiotics in use, Methicillin, and in some cases has shown resistance to the most effective antibiotic known, Vancomycin.

Until recently, MRSA was mainly found in hospital patients with weakened immune systems. Now it is spreading among other hospital patients and employees, high school and college athletes, school children, prison inmates, and the military. Football teams have been particularly vulnerable. MRSA can begin as a “simple” boil on the skin, but can result in hospitalization and even death in only a week’s time. Players who are in excellent healthy and physical shape have been killed or hospitalized by this disease. Although doctors don’t fully understand why, MRSA seems to be afflicting groups of people who are physically close together, have physical contact and/or share equipment. This description is true of health clubs as well.

Awareness of MRSA is now reaching the general public as “PrimeTime Live” and “Men’s Health Magazine” has featured stories detailing the power of this bug and its resistance to treatment. Club owners and managers should be armed with information in order to address members’ concerns and keep their club as healthy as possible.

Since this illness is so difficult to treat, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends preventive measures.

Here is a list of six ways club members can protect themselves from MRSA:

1. Disinfect and cover broken skin.
Wounds are doorways for MRSA to enter your body.

2. Obtain treatment for skin infections that won’t heal.
MRSA can grow quietly as a small skin infection for a time, then spread to the bloodstream, where it can be life threatening.

3. Wash hands well with regular soap and water.
This is the number one way to prevent disease according to the CDC.

4. Never use a towel that has been used by someone else or used to wipe equipment.
Towels may dry sweat from equipment, but they also pick up germs from the sweat, which are then deposited on the next piece of equipment or person in which the towel is used.

5. Clean equipment before and after each use.
Use disposable towels with cleaning agents that are supplied by the club.

6. Take a shower immediately after each workout using liquid soap, not a bar.

As a club owner, you can keep these germs from spreading in your facility by providing the appropriate cleaning materials to your members. Antibiotic soaps are not recommended. Bugs can become resistant to antibiotics by being exposed to them. The more the antibiotics are used, the stronger the bugs become.

Terrycloth towels used to wipe sweat from equipment simply spread the germs from one piece of equipment tot the next. Members should be encouraged to use a separate disposable wipe with a cleaning solution to clean each piece of equipment they use. Presaturated wipes are a simple and convenient alternative to spray bottles and dry paper towels.

Sanitizing or disinfecting sprays and wipes are available, but they have limited usefulness in health clubs for two reasons. First, they are only proven effective against a specific list of germs. Any germ not on the list may still remain on equipment after it is cleaned. Second, they require a specific “dwell time” in order to guarantee that the listed germs have been killed. Dwell time is the amount of time the wiped surface must stay wet in order for the specified germs to be eliminated. Required dwell times can be up to 10 minutes, which is not reasonable for a club member trying to quickly move from one piece of equipment to the next. If you use a sanitizing/disinfecting spray or wipe in your club, contact your supplier for information on which germs it is effective against and the dwell time required to kill those germs.

Prevent the spread of germs like MRSA in your club and address members’ health concerns by encouraging personal cleansing, discouraging the use of terry cloth towels to wipe down equipment, and providing disposable presaturated wipes for individual equipment cleaning. These simple measures can help to keep your health club healthy and happy.

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