College gyms, workout equipment are covered in antibiotic-resistant bacteria

WASHINGTON — As the coronavirus pandemic keeps many schools closed, parents and students continue to worry if reopening will only help spread the illness. A new report finds COVID-19 isn’t the only danger lurking inside these buildings. Testing of college campuses reveals hundreds of bacteria strains covering shared gym equipment; many of them resistant to antibiotics.

A press release from the American Society of Microbiology (ASM) reveals 462 varieties of Staphylococcus bacteria were discovered in two university recreational facilities. Even more disturbing, 43 percent of the strains are resistant to ampicillin — a treatment for infections.

Bacterial dangers in gyms

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Staphylococcus aureus is a germ nearly a third of the population carries in their nose. While it’s usually harmless, it can cause infection and even death. In 2017, around 120,000 S. aureus bacteria infections led to 20,000 deaths. The most common way these infections spread is through contact with cuts or damaged skin.

Of the ampicillin-resistant strains present in these communal gyms, the study finds a staggering 73 percent are capable of withstanding multiple drugs.

“These results suggest regularly contacted surfaces in different recreational environments can harbor multi-drug resistant S. aureus (MDRSA) and should be disinfected frequently to best maintain public health and community wellbeing,” researcher Chase A. Weikel says in a press release.

The germs are everywhere

Dozens of different gym surfaces were swabbed as part of the study. This includes workout gear that is people often touch, like dumbbells, barbell handles, machine pulley grips, kettlebells, and treadmill handles.

The report reveals 45 separate surfaces are carrying these resilient germs. The bacteria uncovered in the gyms was then scanned for resistance to many of the common infection treatments like ampicillin, oxacillin, and penicillin.

Given the widespread fear over COVID-19, the ASM study sheds new light on the high level of risk for infection in public spaces. Microorganisms are on many of the items Americans share; potentially making the proper cleaning of a gym a life or death situation.

The findings are being presented in August at the ASM Microbe conference online.

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