Recreation Management Rec Report - The Newsletter for Recreation, Sports & Fitness Facility Managers

Feature Story

December 2017

Preventing Germs in Gyms: What Works?

By Dave Ramont

According to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), there were more than 36,000 health clubs in the United States in 2016. Furthermore, over 66 million Americans used a health club and more than 57 million were members of at least one athletic facility, which was an increase over previous years. And while these numbers are good news when it comes to Americans getting healthier, the downside is that there has also been a rise in the number of community-acquired infections (CAIs) in gyms.

Though most commonly found in hospitals, outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and other CAIs have become more common in athletic centers. Therefore it's important for facilities to look at hygiene protocols and come up with preventive measures to reduce the potential for CAIs in these so-called high-touch environments. A recent study published in the American Journal of Infection Control points to one potential tool in this fight.

The study, conducted over 16 months at the Grinnell College Athletic Center, found that the use of copper alloy materials in health clubs could significantly reduce bacteria concentrations on fitness equipment. Significantly fewer bacteria were found on equipment with copper alloy grips, such as kettlebells, barbells, dumbbells, grip attachments, low row attachments and lat pulldown attachments. The study was led by Shannon Hinsa-Leasure, associate professor of biology at Grinnell, who explained that grip surfaces in athletic centers present an ideal environment for microbes to persist and spread. "We have shown that copper alloy grips reduce bacterial numbers by 94 percent over control grips and thereby limit the spread of infectious microbes by reducing exposure to athletes."

While copper compounds have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, the Environmental Protection Agency has just recently recognized copper alloys as having antimicrobial effectiveness. During the Grinnell College study, machines, benches and bars were wiped down with antibacterial wipes, and users were encouraged to wipe down equipment, which is the center's typical protocol. A daily cleaning was performed every morning, and high-touch areas were cleaned during business hours or right after closing.

Hinsa-Leasure says they demonstrated that copper alloys excel at reducing bacteria in the athletic center environment at rates similar to those found in hospital settings. "And we found the most common type of bacteria on these surfaces is Staphylococcus. In this high-traffic environment with students, faculty and staff from all over the world utilizing the same equipment, installing copper alloy grips is a simple way to enhance the cleaning protocol of our athletic center."

MRSA and other pathogens can survive for months on surfaces, and can be a continuous source of transmission. Therefore, implementation of infection control strategies at athletic facilities, such as the use of copper alloys in combination with disinfecting procedures, should be considered to help reduce the spread of CAIs.

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