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Germs At The Gym

Germs at the GymPutting in time at the gym is supposed to make you healthier, but if you’re not careful, it could be the cause of an unexpected surprise—sickness.  The gym is one of the best places for pathogens (germs) to hide.  It provides germs exactly what they need to thrive and multiply:  dampness, darkness, and warmth.  While other body systems and tissues may be affected, skin is the primary site of exogenous infection.

Although the exposure of athletes to various routes of physical insult has been recognized since humans ran from predators, only in modern times has attention been paid to the specifics. That covers everything from respiratory irregularities to athlete’s foot.  Most common, however, are attacks on the skin, and these account for more than half the outbreaks of infectious diseases that occur among participants in competitive sports. It’s been noted that, “viral, bacterial and fungal infections are common in athletes due to heat, friction and contact with others,” in a study reported in Canada. (Conklin. 1990)  Lesions from herpes, tumors from molluscum, and painful plantar warts may be transmitted from surface-to-person and from person-to-person at the gym. On the upsides, there is hope because “antibiotics are effective against mild infections.”

Do you pay attention to your skin after a day at the gym?  Probably not.  You might wash it, but do you examine it? In the worst possible scenario MRSA, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, may appear.  This germ is usually associated with hospitals and nursing homes, but of late has been associated with schools, playgrounds, and your gym, but thankfully not as an epidemic.  MRSA can start as a tiny pimple and grow to the size of a softball in a short time, requiring hospitalization, surgical cleaning of the wound, stitching, and a course of antibiotics. MRSA infections commonly start at sites of visible skin trauma, such as cuts, scrapes, and abrasions, but also show up at places where there is hair, such as the back of the neck, armpit, and groin.  There have been cases of MRSA beginning on feet.  That makes sense because you tend to go barefoot in the locker room…when flip-flops are more in order.  Direct and indirect contact with the lesions and seepages of others make the skin vulnerable to a host of problems.  While MRSA may be the worst, it may also be the least likely of our worries. (Ryan. 2011)  More common are athlete’s foot, jock itch, impetigo, herpes simplex, and ringworm, among a few others.

There are preventive steps you can take. Covering any breaks in the skin is of paramount importance. It doesn’t take much for an opportunistic bacterium to worm its way in.  Do not shave prior to visiting your gym. That goes for gals as well as guys. Razor nicks open the door for infections. Do not go barefoot. The heat in the shower room, the darkness of the area, and the dampness provide the ultimate environment for the propagation of fungi and other pathogens. Wear flip-flops or water shoes. Besides, they’ll keep you from slipping on wet tiles.

It’s a nice courtesy for your gym to provide disinfectant sprays that you can use before attacking a machine or stretching on a mat. If it doesn’t, bring your own, along with paper towels.  What’s wrong with a rag?  It’ll transfer germs from one place to another.  Or bring disposable wipes.  More men than women shower at the gym. Make sure your towels are clean, and try not to use the one from your feet on the rest of your body if you’ve been barefoot or if it fell onto the locker room floor.  Don’t share towels, either.  Nor soap, unless it’s a liquid in a pump bottle.

Be religious about doing your laundry.  Don’t let wet stuff sit in your gym bag to ferment.  No matter how clean you think you are, stuff will grow there.  If you have kids, be especially vigilant.  Molluscum contagiosum is commonly seen in youngsters, usually being spread from skin to skin, but also by sharing a towel.  Meticulous hygiene is imperative.  Lots of men—more than women—walk around the locker room in the buff.  Wearing a towel places a barrier between you and the bench or any other shared surface.  The last place you want an itchy infection is where you sit.

References

Sports Med. 1990 Feb;9(2):100-19.
Common cutaneous disorders in athletes.
Conklin RJ.
Department of Dermatology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.

Am J Infect Control. 2011 Mar;39(2):148-50.
Are gymnasium equipment surfaces a source of staphylococcal infections in the community?
Ryan KA, Ifantides C, Bucciarelli C, Saliba H, Tuli S, Black E, Thompson LA.

AJIC: American Journal of Infection Control. Vol 37, Iss 6 , Pp 447-453, Aug 2009
A critical evaluation of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and other bacteria of medical interest on commonly touched household surfaces in relation to household demographics
Elizabeth Scott, PhD; Susan Duty, RN, ScD; Karen McCue, BS

J Am Acad Dermatol. 1980 Oct;3(4):415-24.
Dermatologic aspects of sports medicine.
Levine N.

Adv Dermatol. 1989;4:29-48; discussion 49.
Sports-related skin injuries.
Basler RS.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

Antibiotic Alternatives

garlic-goldensealLivestock and poultry live in such proximity to each other that they share more than food. They stand in it, they wallow in it, and they breathe it.  How does the farmer in the dell protect his animals from catching each other’s sicknesses and diseases?  From cattle to chickens, and probably even to farmed fish, antibiotics have been necessary evils, having resulted in tremendous increases in animal production and protection of human health.  (Hume. 2011)  It’s been a rare case when these drugs weren’t used.  Some factory farms that swore they were antibiotic free were later found to be in violation of the truth.  Primary care physicians prescribe antibiotics to satisfy their patients’ false beliefs that this class of drug will cure their common cold and remove symptoms of influenza.  (Smucny. 2000)  What’s wrong with this?  Antibiotic resistance is the concern, an issue that develops almost too quickly for science to keep ahead of the pathogens. (Hall. 2004)

Enter the alternatives—the natural antibiotics.

For a reason not yet identified, bacteria have a tough time becoming resistant to natural substances.  Maybe we shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.  Because they are natural, these alternative antibiotics / antivirals cannot be patented.  They are dose-dependent, as well, meaning that you might need more of a substance than your twin brother or sister.  The bacteria we face today are the same ones we faced in past decades, but they don’t die at the hands of the miracle drugs that worked sixty years ago.  These potential killers have been found to fall at the hands of some pretty innocuous characters.  Here are a few.

Goldenseal, the most active compound of which is called berberine, is a supplement that reduces the ability of some streptococcus bacteria to adhere to epithelial cells, the covering of organs that compares to skin.  Berberine is bactericidal and bacteriostatic, killing and preventing bacterial multiplication.  (Sun. 1988)  (Amin. 1969)  In tests at California’s Veterans Affairs Medical Center at San Diego, staff discovered that goldenseal was able to increase antigen-specific immunoglobin (Ig) production, namely IgM, the immunoglobin that responds first to intrusion by pathogens in the bloodstream.  In combination with echinacea (angustifolia), an augmentation of IgG response was noted, thus making invaders subject to destruction by macrophages.  (Rehman. 1999)

Essential oils and extracts from plants have been recognized as being antimicrobial for many years.  They haven’t been studied extensively because there is little profit in substances that can’t be patented.  Pharmaceutical companies have major dollars available for research, but not for anything that grows in your yard.  In 1999, the University of Western Australia pulled out all the stops and investigated more than fifty plant oils and extracts for their efficacy as antimicrobial agents.  No less than ten common bacteria strains fell prey to oils lemongrass, oregano, and bay, including E. coli, Candida albicans, Staphylococcus aureus, and two pneumonia bacteria.  The remaining oils and extracts showed variable activity, but the notion of using plant oils as pharmaceutical agents was supported.  (Hammer. 1999)  A year later, in the UK, Scots found that “volatile oils exhibited considerable inhibitory effects against all the organisms under test…” (Dorman. 2000)

A perpetual favorite, garlic is one of the better-known and more frequently enlisted of the antiviral compounds.  One of the neatest stories about this plant is that the crooks who wandered Europe during the Black Death rampage of the 14th century survived the plague only because garlic was a mainstay of their diets.  At the end of the last century it was ascertained effective against E.coli in work conducted at Hirosaki University in Japan.  (Sasaki. 1999)   Fresh garlic was used in those tests and in earlier American studies at Brigham Young University, where garlic thiosulfates demonstrated virucidal properties against every strain of virus tested. (Weber. 1992)  Even MRSA is controllable with garlic given at twelve-hour intervals.  (Tsao.  2007)  This seems too simple.

Staphylococcus aureus, the villain of MRSA fame, succumbed to just the vapors exuded by a combined grapefruit seed extract and geranium oil extract in experiments done with burn dressings at a British hospital in 2004. (Edwards-Jones. 2004)  Studies on echinacea are fraught with controversy because of inconsistencies in methodology.  The plant responds to variations in cultivation factors that include weather, soil type, irrigation, fertilizers, and more.  The species and the parts of the plant used, and processing measures, make a difference in outcomes.  Generally, echinacea is better at prevention than cure, although it may relieve the common cold a few days sooner. (Schulten. 2001)  Used for respiratory infections, it may have no benefit at all. (Barrett. 1999)  Maybe a positive expectation makes a difference.  Whatever message you take home from this, don’t ask your doctor for an antibiotic to treat your runny nose, sore throat and fever.

References

MAIN ABSTRACTS
Hume ME.
Historic perspective: Prebiotics, probiotics, and other alternatives to antibiotics.
Poult Sci. 2011 Nov;90(11):2663-9.

Smucny J, Fahey T, Becker L, Glazier R, McIsaac W.
Antibiotics for acute bronchitis.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2000;(4):CD000245.

Barry G. Hall
Predicting the evolution of antibiotic resistance genes
Nature Reviews Microbiology 2, 430-435 (May 2004)

SUPPORTING ABSTRACTS
Sun D, Courtney HS, Beachey EH.
Berberine sulfate blocks adherence of Streptococcus pyogenes to epithelial cells, fibronectin, and hexadecane.
Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 1988 Sep;32(9):1370-4.

Amin AH, Subbaiah TV, Abbasi KM.
Berberine sulfate: antimicrobial activity, bioassay, and mode of action.
Can J Microbiol. 1969 Sep;15(9):1067-76.

Rehman J, Dillow JM, Carter SM, Chou J, Le B, Maisel AS.
Increased production of antigen-specific immunoglobulins G and M following in vivo treatment with the medicinal plants Echinacea angustifolia and Hydrastis canadensis
Immunol Lett. 1999 Jun 1;68(2-3):391-5.

Hammer KA, Carson CF, Riley TV.
Antimicrobial activity of essential oils and other plant extracts.
J Appl Microbiol. 1999 Jun;86(6):985-90.

Dorman HJ, Deans SG.
Antimicrobial agents from plants: antibacterial activity of plant volatile oils.
J Appl Microbiol. 2000 Feb;88(2):308-16.

Sasaki J, Kita T, Ishita K, Uchisawa H, Matsue H.
Antibacterial activity of garlic powder against Escherichia coli O-157.
J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 1999 Dec;45(6):785-90.

Tsao SM, Liu WH, Yin MC.
Two diallyl sulphides derived from garlic inhibit meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection in diabetic mice.
J Med Microbiol. 2007 Jun;56(Pt 6):803-8.

Weber ND, Andersen DO, North JA, Murray BK, Lawson LD, Hughes BG.
In vitro virucidal effects of Allium sativum (garlic) extract and compounds
Planta Med. 1992 Oct;58(5):417-23.

Edwards-Jones V, Buck R, Shawcross SG, Dawson MM, Dunn K.
The effect of essential oils on methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus using a dressing model.
Burns. 2004 Dec;30(8):772-7.

Barrett BP, Brown RL, Locken K, Maberry R, Bobula JA, D’Alessio D.
Treatment of the common cold with unrefined echinacea. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.
Ann Intern Med. 2002 Dec 17;137(12):939-46.

Schulten B, Bulitta M, Ballering-Brühl B, Köster U, Schäfer M.
Efficacy of Echinacea purpurea in patients with a common cold. A placebo-controlled, randomised, double-blind clinical trial.
Arzneimittelforschung. 2001;51(7):563-8.

Barrett B, Vohmann M, Calabrese C.
Echinacea for upper respiratory infection.
J Fam Pract. 1999 Aug;48(8):628-35.

Blaser M.
Antibiotic overuse: Stop the killing of beneficial bacteria.
Nature. 2011 Aug 24;476(7361):393-4. doi: 10.1038/476393a.

Arnold SR, Straus SE.
Interventions to improve antibiotic prescribing practices in ambulatory care.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005 Oct 19;(4):CD003539.

Zenner D, Shetty N.
European Antibiotic Awareness Day 2011: antibiotics–a powerful tool and a dwindling resource.
Fam Pract. 2011 Oct;28(5):471-3.

Linder JA, Huang ES, Steinman MA, Gonzales R, Stafford RS.
Fluoroquinolone prescribing in the United States: 1995 to 2002.
Am J Med. 2005 Mar;118(3):259-68.

Smucny J, Fahey T, Becker L, Glazier R, McIsaac W.
Antibiotics for acute bronchitis.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2000;(4):CD000245.

Hueston WJ.
Antibiotics: neither cost effective nor ‘cough’ effective
J Fam Pract. 1997 Mar;44(3):261-5.

Neuhauser MM, Weinstein RA, Rydman R, Danziger LH, Karam G, Quinn JP.
Antibiotic resistance among gram-negative bacilli in US intensive care units: implications for fluoroquinolone use.
JAMA. 2003 Feb 19;289(7):885-8.

Harrison JW, Svec TA.
The beginning of the end of the antibiotic era? Part II. Proposed solutions to antibiotic abuse.
Quintessence Int. 1998 Apr;29(4):223-9.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.