Quick, pack the gym bag!
- Change of clothes
- Flip flops for the shower,
- MRSA Superbugs?
Yes, your good, old gym bag is the Trojan horse that picks up superbugs every time you drop it in your locker, and then it brings those bugs home with you. No wonder, at least 16% of the population carries MRSA around inside their bodies, too.
Don’t panic yet. You can carry MRSA for your entire life without a problem, as long as you have a super healthy immune system or your body isn’t trying to fight off disease. But once your health is compromised, MRSA steps up its game.
Here’s a good example. Do you remember the fear and frenzy of the H1N1 epidemic a few years ago? Media stories fueled international anxiety and one, in particular, seemed to hit hard: a 17-year-old, robust high school football player who’d performed brilliantly under Friday night lights, was near death in a hospital ICU by the end of that weekend. The 60 Minutes reporter covering this story focused blame on H1N1, but she also made the offhand comment that this young victim was also infected with MRSA.
When all was said and done, the ballyhooed H191 flu “epidemic” claimed about 25,000 lives, about the same amount of people dying every year from the “regular” flu. MRSA claimed at least four times that number. In fact, about 100,000 people die every year from MRSA without any of the public hand-wringing and precautions that went along with the H191 outbreak. But think about it, which one is the real epidemic?
The young football player whose story claimed our hearts and stoked our fears eventually recovered, but not without struggle and lots of physical therapy. Nearly every symptom he suffered pointed to the fact that MRSA—underplayed in news reports—was really the cause of his near death.
The fact that he spent so much time in locker rooms was the first clue that MRSA had compromised his immune system to the point where H1N1 became life-threatening. He was one of those healthy carriers, but fighting off the flu is just the kind of dent in the armor that MRSA superbugs use to flourish and invade.
You’re not going to stop your sports—that’s just out of the question. Your sports are one of the healthy habits that actually support your immune system. So follow another checklist when you pack your gym bag, and learn to spot signs and symptoms of potential superbug trouble.
Add these to your arsenal:
- Alcohol wipes to clean…
- The interior of your locker
- The bottom and sides of your toiletries kit
- Gym equipment – before and after use
- Yoga and wrestling mats
- Topical antibiotic to apply to every cut or scrape immediately
- Antimicrobial shower gel
- Antimicrobial hand gel or foam (at least 60% alcohol based)
- Your own bar of soap in a container
- Plastic bag for your workout clothing
Follow these safe practices, too:
- Don’t share towels, razors, or hair or nail clippers.
- Ask if your gym uses bleach in their wash (if not, bring your own towels, launder them with bleach at home, and do not mix them with your other laundry).
- Wash your hands frequently with warm, soapy water for at least 15 seconds each time. Dry them with an air dryer; a paper towel; or a clean, fresh towel.
- If you have cuts or scrapes, keep them clean and covered with clean bandages until healed. (Wash your hands before touching the wound! If someone else changes your bandages, make sure he or she washes up well, too.)
- Shower immediately after exercise, using antimicrobial soap, especially if you’ve been involved in a contact sport.
- Use shower time to look for any new bumps, scrapes, or cuts. Treat breaks in the skin with alcohol wipes and topical antibiotics. For bumps that look like little pimples or bug bites, see a doctor—this is how MRSA literally first “pops up.” See a doctor immediately, too, if your skin reddens or oozes pus, or a rash erupts. Watch for any skin problem at all that hurts or sets off alarms in your head!
- Don’t leave the locker room or gym in your workout clothes. Even if you can’t shower, put your workout gear in a plastic bag and launder it at home, separately from your other laundry, using hot water and a little bleach.
And, finally, “take a look inside.” At your annual physical, ask for a MRSA swab test. It’s just a simple Q-Tip swipe inside your nose, but it will be good to know if you’re at risk, especially if you’re ever hospitalized. Doctors and nurses know to take special precautions if you’re a superbug carrier—they don’t want you to be the Trojan horse in a hospital either.