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Protecting People in Your Environment

Germy Gyms Hidden risks spur new guidelines to keep young athletes safe

Originally published by 13WIBW

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) – Washburn Rural High School athletic director Penny Lane knows firsthand what can be lurking in the gym.

“Anytime you have a lot of people in the same area, the possibility exits for things to happen,” she said.

In 2015, a WRHS student had a confirmed case of MRSA, a potentially serious bacterial infection, often resistant to antibiotics. Several other area schools have battled cases recently, too.

Dr. Ryan Tomlins of Cotton O’Neil Orthopedic and Sports Medicine says most people will not have any trouble with MRSA if they catch it early and get treated, but, if it’s not, it can cause big complications.

“If it is not treated appropriately, maybe misdiagnosed or not reported by the student-athlete or coaches or anyone else around that student-athlete, it can start to form abscesses; it can even get in the blood stream and start to cause organ damage and a very severe illness,” he said.

The risk is greatest in sports with skin-to-skin contact, like wrestling, but anyone who enters a gym could be at risk. It’s estimated that 10 to 15 percent of all injuries that sideline college-aged athletes are due to sport-related skin infections.

“We live around bacteria all the time,” Tomlins said.

To illustrate how true that is, students in Dr. Andrew Herbig’s Washburn University biology classes sampled surfaces all over the campus rec center, from exercise balls and machines, to door handles and the rock climbing wall. As they collected swabs, staff kept up their regular protocol of sanitizing machines after each use.

When students studied their samples two weeks later, they wrote a lot of ‘zeros’ in their tally of growths indicating possible dangerous staph strains.

“I think that’s good news overall for the rec center and for those people that use it,” Herbig said. “They’re doing a very good job with their disinfecting.”

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Gym Infection Prevention