How to Protect Yourself Against MRSA at the Gym

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) can be picked up in gym locker rooms and on equipment.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) can be picked up in gym locker rooms and on equipment. Getty Images

Giant's tight end Daniel Fells may not play again after losing part of his foot to MRSA, a drug-resistant staph infection. The bacteria, known as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has become more common with the widespread use of antibiotics, says Dr. Aran Degenhardt, M.D., from Sports Medicine at Chelsea in New York. While MRSA used to be found primarily in hospitals and nursing homes, it can now be spread in gyms and other areas that involve crowding, skin-to-skin contact, and shared equipment.

MRSA can be contracted if someone leaves bacteria behind on a machine at the gym, but there are easy ways to protect yourself, says Degenhardt. Cover exposed skin, wear pants or long sleeves, limit contact with gym surfaces, and cover any open cuts with a Band-Aid or dressing.

Disinfectant sprays and alcohol wipes can also kill the bacteria. Spray machines and let the disinfectant sit for a few seconds before and after use. Following a workout, immediately wash your clothes and take a shower. If that's not possible, separate gym clothes into another bag to be washed later, and scrub your hands with soap immediately following your workout.

If you develop a skin infection and notice swelling, redness, painful pimples, or abscesses, contact your doctor. Although it is possible to pick up the bacteria at the gym, Degenhardt says the infection can generally be avoided with good personal hygiene.