I may never go to the gym again!
In the January 2017 issue of JBJS Reviews, Mitchell et al. report on sport-related skin and soft tissue infections (SSTIs) as an ongoing problem across a diverse range of recreational, collegiate, and professional athletes. They note that these infections often occur during training for competitive sports or during the competition and that the majority are bacterial or fungal in origin. The review describes the mechanisms by which SSTIs occur in healthy athletes and the prevalence among players in various sports, including the effect of player position. The authors discuss the mechanisms by which SSTIs are spread and the hygiene measures that are recommended to prevent their spread. They extrapolate these lessons to the general population of so-called weekend warriors or fitness enthusiasts. This is what worries people like me, as studies have shown that these infections easily occur during regular visits to fitness centers and gymnasiums, which are sources of large quantities of bacteria that could cause SSTIs!
Studies have shown that billions of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes inhabit the skin and that the types of organisms vary between individuals and between different sites of the skin. In fact, they may vary in relation to each region of the body. Indeed, factors such as skin characteristics, sebaceous gland concentration, moisture content, temperature, and genetics as well as exogenous environmental factors can influence each so-called community of organisms. The authors hypothesize that sports in which participants have substantial skin-to-skin collisions might disrupt these ecosystems on the skin and allow microbes to be shared among players, noting that contact athletes have been shown to be potential carriers of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) more than twice as frequently as athletes who participate in noncontact sports. Other mechanisms by which SSTIs occur in healthy athletes include maceration of the skin due to sweating as well as strenuous training. Of particular interest is the observation that extended periods of intense exercise may temporarily depress certain aspects of the immune system, including natural killer cells, neutrophils, lymphocytes, immunoglobulin levels, and interleukin-2 levels and thus facilitate and promote infection and its potential host transfer.
The article goes on to explain how SSTIs are spread, the prevalence of SSTIs among players in various sports, the importance of personal and environmental hygiene, and specific forms of treatment of SSTIs in athletes.
When you do go to the gym or fitness center, just remember to clean off any equipment both before and after use and to change out of your workout clothes and shower as soon as possible after the workout. Be sure to cover benches with a towel, and if you practice yoga, bring your own mat.
I definitely will continue to use the gym but will pay more attention to the issues raised in this review.
Thomas A. Einhorn, MD
Editor, JBJS Reviews