The importance of maintaining clean, well maintained fitness equipment has been highlighted in recent years by the increasing occurrence of a strain of antibiotic resistant bacteria called MRSA (Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus), which is also resistant to oxacillin, penicillin, and amoxicillin. The discovery of penicillin in 1940 reduced the incidence of bacterial infections worldwide until a broad strain of bacteria known as S. aureus developed the resistance to a large number of antibiotics in 1960. Primarily the infections caused by this strain targeted individuals who were in-patients in a hospital setting and other healthcare facilities (nursing homes and dialysis centers). In the 1990’s, a type of MRSA began to show up and affect individuals who had not been recently hospitalized or had not had medical procedures such as dialysis or catheters within the prior year. It has been responsible for causing serious skin and soft tissue infections if left untreated and is better known as CA-MRSA or Community Associated-MRSA.
Skin infections caused by CA-MRSA exposures in healthy individuals normally present themselves as pimples or boils; they can be red, swollen, and painful, and are sometimes associated with pus or other drainage from the affected area. The bacteria from infected individuals can be passed on to someone else through skin-to-skin contact and through small cuts and abrasions. CA-MRSA is treatable. Those who have a higher risk of contracting skin infections are people with compromised immune systems, people involved in contact sports, and people who share towels, razors, or other personal gym/workout clothing and equipment.
YMCAs need to understand what CA-MRSA is, how it is transmitted, and what steps to take to minimize the spread of the bacteria. A more in-depth discussion of this topic can be found on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website www.cdc.gov/ and additional information can be obtained from your TRG risk manager.
The best way to limit the exposure to CA-MRSA is to properly clean and sanitize fitness equipment, including all ancillary items where skin contact takes place (e.g., exercise and sport balls, public-use exercise mats, free weights etc.). Cleaning and disinfecting can be tasks shared between the users and fitness facility staff. Such a policy should be included in your job descriptions, clearly posted in the fitness room, and communicated during new member orientation.
Paper towels and an approved disinfectant spray should be provided to wipe down the equipment after use; disposal bins for the used towels should be readily available.
Broad-based guidance should be made available in a handout, brochure, or an article on your association website that addresses the issue of CA-MRSA. The guidance should explain how to prevent staph infections from spreading, i.e., by requiring open wounds, sores, and rashes to be covered with an appropriate bandage, by frequently washing hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and by not sharing personal items with others.
Please call us at 800-463-8546 to discuss this or any other risk management safety tip, or visit our web site at www.redwoodsgroup.com to learn more about YMCA risk management issues.