No pain, no gain. Sweat it out. Burn, baby burn! A good workout means sweating, and that stack of towels at the gym is there for a reason. In gyms, weight rooms and fitness centers, many people will be using the same equipment and locker room space. But they might not be aware of the risks of skin infections from sharing this common space.

The Risk of Skin Infections in Gyms

A college wrestler from Drexel University recently learned the hard way about the discomfort and danger of skin infections. The day after competing in a wrestling match, what had been a pimple on his arm ballooned into a lesion as large as his biceps. He was rushed to the emergency room where the lesion was lanced. A culture revealed that he had MRSA, the staph infection resistant to most antibiotics. He spent five days in the hospital.

If untreated, or if his body had been unable to fight the infection, he could have risked losing an arm or, perhaps, his life.

Career athletes aren't the only ones who should be aware of the risks of skin infections. Anyone who uses a gym or fitness center should, too. People risk increased exposure to infections when fitness equipment, locker rooms, showers and towels are in close quarters and not cleaned regularly.

Protect Yourself

A June 2010 report from the National Athletic Trainers' Association revealed the frequency of skin diseases in athletes. The report highlights the causes of such infections and ways to prevent them.

Wiping down equipment with antibacterial soap or sanitizer before you use it is essential. Gym rules should require people to clean equipment as soon as they have finished a workout. However, you can't be sure that they have done so thoroughly or even at all.

Make the following steps part of your workout routine:

  • Bring flip flops or some other kind of shoe to wear as you walk from one place to another
  • Shower at home, if possible
  • Bring your own towel
  • Wear clean clothes when you work out

Don't go to the gym if you're ill or not feeling well. A lowered immune system can be more susceptible to infections.

Know Your Legal Rights

Those who suffer serious infections, like the college wrestler, may find themselves faced with steep medical bills and lingering ill effects, and pinpointing the exact source of the infection can be difficult. Attorneys are often hesitant to take on cases where expert testimony about the cause of the client's infection is required, because some of these can be picked up anywhere.

Hearing news of an outbreak at a facility may make it easier to prove that the illness or infection developed there. If the facility lacks necessities such as liquid antibacterial soap, hot water in sinks and showers, and sanitizer and signs near the fitness equipment, an attorney could show recklessness or negligence toward its customers and members.

Whether the facility has signs and rules prohibiting persons with infectious or contagious conditions from using the facility will also be relevant.

Read the Contract before Signing

You'll probably be asked to sign a membership agreement or contract before joining a gym or fitness center. Review the language carefully and take it to an attorney for review if you aren't sure whether the contract terms are reasonable.

Be especially cautious about any language that limits your right to sue. Terms such as "release of liability" or "waiver of legal rights" prevent you from pursuing a lawsuit against your club. Still, such language doesn't mean the club is free of all duty to keep the facility safe and in good working order.

Another important aspect of your contract is your right to cancel your membership. If you learn about an infection outbreak in the gym, you may want to cancel or suspend your membership. Review the contract for explanation of the circumstances you can cancel without paying an extra fee.

Still Not Satisfied?

Be sure to tell the manager or desk attendant about any unclean or unsafe conditions when you see them. What if you've made comments to the manager about the problems or are still dissatisfied with the facility's attention to important safety and hygiene precautions? You still might have a solid argument for cancellation or refund - but possibly with a cancellation fee.

If you've given your feedback and no one's taken care of the problem, a well-written letter outlining the specific health or safety concerns, from you or your attorney, can be helpful. The facility won't want to risk that letter used as evidence if a lawsuit is ever filed based on an illness or injury.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What kinds of evidence can I use to show I picked up my infection at the gym?
  • What is the duty of a gym to prevent illness and infection? How far do they have to go?
  • My gym contract doesn't mention canceling due to gym condition. If I cancel, could they send a collections agency after me and will it wreck my credit score?

Tagged as: Personal Injury, Personal Injury Basics, gym health, gym risk