Some twelve years ago, this bacterium, once thought to be only acquired in healthcare facilities, began to show up in the community. Between 2002 and 2003, in Los Angeles alone, outbreaks were recorded suggesting this bacterium was growing in the community. One happened to involve athletes; the spread presumed to be direct body-to-body contact. Over the next few years, other outbreaks occurred, particularly in those playing football. Some, such as one in Connecticut involved ten people in a team of 100 players. The spread wasn’t limited to direct contact as other indirect means such as showers and sharing locker areas became suspect. By 2008, the risk spread from the locker room to the field.

With MRSA growing in this niche of athletics, the scope spread to other athletic environments. Simply being in a gym with shared weight equipment became a potential risk factor. But a study also published in 2008 put some doubt on the potential for spread suggesting the risk was minimal at best. Yet, because the weight room offers the perfect opportunity for microbial spread, there was no point in ignoring the risk. As a result, disinfection at source was implemented.
But even this strategy seemed to be ineffective as MRSA spread continued. Perhaps the most famous occurred in 2013 involving the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Three members of the team came down with the infection. The concern was so great at least one of the scheduled games was threatened. The team managed to clean their facility and put an end to the outbreak.

 The incident brought even more attention to the issue and sparked worry amongst both athlete and facility managers. Yet, amid the apprehension, little had been done to find out whether MRSA was in fact a serious issue for everyone. After all, these may have been isolated events or a case of bad luck. But until a proper assessment of the microbial population in an athletic facility was performed, there was only speculation. Last week, some answers to underlie the potential for infection spread, finally became available. A team of American researchers undertook the task of exploring the bacterial population of a gym and revealed the microbial population of an athletic facility. Their results provide some ease for those worried their visit to the gym may soon be followed by a trip to the hospital.

The group chose three university facilities in Chicago. They chose several different machines to sample, including elliptical machines, mats, weights and benches, as well as the floor. The samples occurred every hour over two different days. By the time the collection was complete, a total of 356 samples were obtained. Each sample then went through a genetic analysis to identify the bacteria present. This resulted in nearly 11 million sequences. Of those, over 50,000 could be linked to a particular bacterium. This equated to 800 different bacteria per sample. The sequences were then typed to identify the genus and then compared to other samples to determine prevalence over the two day period.

The results revealed environmental bacteria were the most common. This included Pseudomonas and Acinetobacter, which made up 18% of all the bacteria identified. This wasn’t unexpected as any environment would be likely to harbor these organisms. Another expected result was the relatively high amount of skin-associated bacteria. Corynebacterium, Micrococcus and Kocuria were frequently identified as was Staphylococcus, the genus of MRSA (although it wasn’t identified in this study).


Since he was a teenager, Jason Tetro has called the laboratory his second home. His experience in microbiology and immunology has taken him into several fields including bloodborne, food and water pathogens; environmental microbiology; disinfection and antisepsis; and emerging pathogens such as SARS, avian flu, and Zika virus. He currently is a visiting scientist at the University of Guelph.

In the public, Jason is better known as The Germ Guy, and regularly offers his at times unconventional perspective on science in the media. Jason has written two books, The Germ Code, which was shortlisted as Science Book of The Year (2014) and The Germ Files, which spent several weeks on the national bestseller list. He has also co-edited The Human Microbiome Handbook, which provides an academic perspective on the impact of microbes in human health. He lives in Toronto.

(1) http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/13896158/cases-new-york-giants-daniel-fells-others-show-danger-mrsa-infections-sports (2) http://outbreaknewstoday.com/mrsa-outbreaks-seen-at-all-levels-of-sports-41541/ (3) http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2015/10/05/mrsa-infects-yale-athletes/(4) http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/25/sports/football/25staph.html?_r=0 (5) http://www.cbsnews.com/news/new-york-giants-daniel-fells-could-lose-foot-to-mrsa-report-says/


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