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The nasty infections you can pick up in the gym and how to avoid them

News Desk

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Sun, February 24, 2019  /  09:47 pm
The nasty infections you can pick up in the gym and how to avoid them

Personal hygiene is key, so always be sure to wash your sweaty clothes after working out. (Shutterstock/File)

Unfortunately, a hot body isn’t the only thing you can bring back from the gym. 

With so much sweat and body contact with machines and equipment in a confined space, many fungi, bacteria and viruses lurk inside gyms. Despite your best intentions to become fit and healthy, you’re not safe from the skin and respiratory infections that gyms breed. 

But don’t let this become an excuse to break your New Year’s resolution so soon – check out Health’s eight common diseases and germs lurking in gyms and how you can avoid picking them up.


One of the most common germs hiding in gyms is the staphylococcus bacteria. Some strains of the bacteria can be harmful, however most of the time, staph goes unnoticed and does not necessarily cause any infection. In fact, about one-third of people carry some type of staph on their skin, gym goer or not.

If you have scratches or cuts, you are at risk of contracting a staph infection. Dr. Patel, chief medical officer of SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital, said that the most serious form of staph, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, generally is not picked up in gyms.

The best way to avoid getting a staph infection is to wash your hands frequently and wipe down equipment with an alcohol-based wipe before use. If you have open wounds, even if it’s just a shaving nick, cover them up and don’t share towels with others.

Athlete's foot

Some types of fungi thrive in warm, dark and moist environments, which sounds a lot like the pair of shoes you work out in, or the locker you leave your towel in. 

Athlete's foot is a common infection caused by fungi that mostly affects the feet and groin, however it can also be spread to armpits and for women, under the breasts. Dr. Patel says that fungal infections are more likely to come from your own hygiene practices, and it’s not always from walking around in bare feet. “It’s made worse by being in sweaty shoes, using the same socks day after day, and not letting your feet dry out.”

Put simply, you can avoid athlete's foot pretty easily if you practice basic hygiene: change your socks between workouts, wash gym clothes after sweating and ensure that your workout gear is completely dry after washes.


As the name states, ringworm is a fungal infection that appears as a scaly circle on your skin, occurring anywhere on your body. The infection thrives in wet environments, so always wipe down sweaty machines or equipment before you use them.

Read also: Seven foods to avoid before hitting the gym

You can also avoid picking ringworm up in similar ways to the point above: always change sweaty clothes and socks, wear flip flops rather than going barefoot and wear dry clothing to the gym. Antifungal shampoos can help keep ringworm off your scalp.

Cold and flu

Respiratory illnesses are among the easiest spread, as they are transmitted through the droplets of coughs and sneezes, which stay alive for some time outside of the body.

Coughs and sneezes transmit viruses to many places in the gym – machines, dumbbells, railings and more. All it takes is for you to grab something that’s got the influenza virus on it and touch your eye or wipe your mouth and theoretically, you can get it, according to Britt Marcussen, clinical associate professor of family medicine from University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.

Avoid it by regularly having your flu shots and washing your hands often, especially once your workout is finished.  

Plantar warts

Plantar warts are, in fact, a strain of human papillomavirus (HPV), which most humans have some form of. It is the virus behind cervical cancer, genital warts and more.

The warts can be spread from walking around barefoot at the gym and in the shower area. Similar to other ways to avoid contracting the diseases, always leave your shoes on in the gym and wear flip flops in the shower.


Impetigo can be caught through cuts and abrasions on the skin, resulting in sores that ooze, burst and crust over. The bacteria often lie dormant on the skin, and staph or strep bacteria entering the skin is what causes the symptoms.

In the gym, it’s passed around through sharing towels or touching another person and is prevented through regular handwashing and only using personal towels.

Symptoms of impetigo include red, pus-filled sores that can be treated with antibiotic ointments or oral antibiotics.


While it’s not most commonly picked up in the gym, the herpes virus can still occur in unexpected places. It’s transmitted through a cut or sore, usually through cold sores or genital warts, and more likely to be spread from person-to-person contact.

There have been cases of herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) which has been spread among wrestlers and rugby players and their engagement in contact sports. 

Herpes is easily prevented if you refrain from contacting anyone with cold sores, including sharing drinks. Wash hands well and often, especially after finishing a workout.

Hot-tub rash

Pools and hot-tubs in public places are breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses. When pools don’t have enough disinfectant, like chlorine, Psuedomonas aeruginosa flourishes, which can give you an itchy, red rash and cause swimmer’s ear – occurring when water gets trapped inside the ear.

After using any public pool, it is important to wash your body and swimsuit with soap immediately. If you do find yourself with hot-tub rash, it should go away in a few days on its own.

How to avoid germs at the gym

We’ll start by saying that the benefit of exercise outweighs the potential risk of picking up bacteria or viruses in the gym. Most of the common illnesses are relatively minor and will heal up in a few days.

The easiest way to minimize your risk in the gym is quite simple. Wipe down equipment with a sterilized wipe before and after you use it, be sure to wear flip flops in showers and shoes and socks while working out. Personal hygiene is key, so always be sure to wash your sweaty clothes and remove them after working out in them. Limit person-to-person contact, and don’t share your towels or drinks bottle with anyone. When you’ve finished working out, always wash your hands with soap or sanitizer. (geo/kes)

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