Wash up after your workout: gyms have germs

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Lifting weights, pedaling or pumping iron: health clubs are busier than ever these days. More than 62 million Americans hit the gym in 2013. It’s big business, raking in more than $22.5 billion in the last year, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.

But, local health department inspection records show people are getting more than just sweaty at the gym. Dr. Ulysses Wu, chief of Infectious Diseases with the Saint Francis Medical Group, says, “Anywhere where there is contact you are expected to find organisms.”

Could a workout at the gym put you at risk? The News 8 investigators uncovered documents from the local health department in Orange. The reports revealed raw sewage leaking into the hot tub at the local LA Fitness.

LINK: Orange Health Department Findings

According to the documents from the public health department in Orange some club members claimed they got sick and had to be hospitalized. The Health Department also received complaints from members that claimed to have damaged their eyes from exposure to ultraviolet radiation coming from lamps in the basketball court.

In January of this year, the Branford health department inspected In Shape Fitness and found dirt and a mold-like substance growing in the refrigerator.

LINK: The East Shore District Health Department Branford, In Shape Inspection report & complaints from gym goers

(WTNH / Noelle Gardner)
(WTNH / Noelle Gardner)

The News 8 investigators went to work, swabbing surfaces at a variety of gyms. We tested some of the most popular equipment at fitness clubs in Branford, Hamden, Wallingford and Orange, and sent the samples to Northeast Laboratories. The tests found Staphylococcus Aureus, known as Staph, on a tricep rope at a Branford gym. It’s a bacteria that causes skin infections.

Doctors say if it spreads it can become life-threatening. But the most disturbing find growing in this petrifilm: a hard-to-treat bacteria called MRSA thriving on the surface of an Elliptical trainer at a gym in Orange.

How did the superbug get there? Alan Johnson with Northeast Laboratories says, “It got there most likely [by] contact.”

What do gym regulars think about it? “I would stay away, that is nothing to fool around with,” says Jim Gregory.

The health department does not inspect gyms unless there has been a complaint. Only one of the five gyms News 8 tested responded to our request for an interview Planet Fitness in Branford. There the News 8 investigators found run-of-the-mill bacteria that experts said was nothing to be concerned about.

“The last thing you want to do is have people come to your health club and become sick,” said Mike Katz, owner of Planet Fitness in Branford. “They are coming here to get healthy and feel good.”

Wu adds, “It’s really the bacteria’s world. We are just living in it.”

Here are other inspection reports from area health departments:

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