Wellness Center staph

Symptoms: Pimple-like red bumps that become large abscesses on the skin with the potential of joint, bone, blood, lung and heart infections that can become fatal.

Some well-informed people may already be taking the necessary precautions to stay healthy and avoid these symptoms, while others may be unaware of the increasing drug-resistant bacteria called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. MRSA is a skin-dwelling strain of the Staphylococcus aureus infection. It is making headlines after the Center for Disease Control released a report last month stating that this infection caused 19,000 US deaths in 2005, nearly 2,000 more than that of AIDS the same year.

With the October deaths of a Virginia high school student and New York City middle school student, the overall awareness of this “super bug” is growing like the strain itself. It is reported that MRSA dwells in communal areas like gyms and can be transferred through sharing personal hygiene products like towels, a profile that UM’s Wellness Center fits perfectly.

For anyone like myself, who enjoys daily trips to UM’s Wellness Center, lack of appropriate hygiene precautions puts all of us at risk of MRSA every time we step onto the elliptical machine or pump out ten reps on the bench press. Wellness Center patrons are greeted at the entrance to the gym with a sign reminding them to bring towels and wipe down machines to avoid the spread of germs. I have observed, like George Costanza, that the majority of people don’t separate their skin and sweat from the machine with a small hand towel (some use washcloths, read: useless), and when a towel may be a carrier of MRSA, people aren’t truly cleaning up after themselves.

At least the Wellness Center usually has two, maybe three nearly-empty bottles of what they claim to be the disinfectant, Virex, accompanied by wet, dirty towels – staph breeding grounds. Cardio equipment users often wipe down their machines with the dirty water-looking chemical, but no one seems to realize that the weight machines and benches need constant cleaning as well; the occasional cleaning by the “Can I Help U?” crew proves worthless the second someone uses the machine.

Where are the dozens of spray bottles and towels next to the weight machines? What about tubs of disposable disinfecting wipes?

Here is an idea: Let us get one of our smart infectious disease specialists from the medical school to organize a plan to use the appropriate disinfectants and cleaning treatments that will help prevent the spread of MRSA.

With MRSA on the mind and skin, it is becoming clearer to medical professionals and well-informed citizens alike that necessary precautions must be taken to keep our exercise, learning and working environments as clean as possible. Implementing a larger cleaning plan will help prevent the Wellness Center from becoming “MRSA Central.” In her February 2007 Hurricane article, Amy Sofka voiced some complaints about the Wellness Center, including the relatively nonexistent cleaning precautions. Since nothing has changed, I suggest we work on this as soon as possible. Despite the Wellness Center promoting health and fitness with exercise classes, yoga and nutrition courses, obviously cleanliness is not equal to wellness.

Sam Rega is a senior majoring in motion pictures and philosophy. He may be contacted at s.rega@umiami.edu. Visit his blog at samrega.blogspot.com.