In January 2017, a Nevada woman died after an infection in her leg proved resistant to 26 different antibiotics. According to Dr. James Johnson, professor of infectious diseases medicine at the University of Minnesota, the type of drug-resistant "superbug" found in the woman's leg was just the beginning of what could become a global health crisis. "We're off the cliff," Johnson told NPR at the time. "It's already happening. People are dying. It's right here, right now. Sure, it's going to get worse. But we're already there."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year drug-resistant bacteria such as MRSA infect more than two million people nationwide, killing at least 23,000. Translation: Keeping your facility — whether a gymnasium, fitness club or rec center — clean and free of germs is no longer a nicety but a potential matter of life and death.
The CDC separates infection control into three distinct processes: sterilization, disinfection and cleaning. Athletics facilities won't need to meet sterilization standards, which involves elimination of all microbial life and usually entails methods reserved for healthcare and food manufacturing facilities. However, it is imperative that operators of all types of athletics and fitness facilities use every tool at their disposal to ensure the cleanliness of their gymnasiums, workout areas and locker rooms. Here are a few tips and effective tools to aid in keeping your facility clean, and your participants and employees healthy.
Wash those hands
The battle begins and ends with clean hands. The National Athletic Trainers' Association calls hand hygiene "the single most important practice in reducing the transmission of infectious agents." The CDC actually assembled a hand hygiene task force, which produced a 56-page document all about hand hygiene. Trivial as it may seem, the CDC-approved hand-washing method includes wetting the hands, applying an appropriate amount of soap, rubbing the hands together vigorously for at least 15 seconds, rinsing the hands with water, and then drying thoroughly with a disposable towel.
Be an enabler
Unfortunately, the friendly individuals who use your facilities are also harbingers of harmful germs, which makes shaping their habits an important part of the fight against illnesses and infections. Enabling gym goers and student-athletes to be part of the facility's superbug-busting solution should be a priority.
Facility owners can encourage conscientious hygiene habits from the moment their clientele enters the building. Placing signage in locker rooms that offer gentle reminders to wash hands is a good starting point. Soap dispensers and hand towels in these areas should be filled on a regular basis. Bins for dirty towels should always be present, and laundry should be processed before said bins are overflowing.
It's important that cleanliness is reinforced throughout the rest of the building, which means additional signage in places like weight and cardio areas that prompt members to clean equipment after every use. Keeping plenty of towels, equipment cleaner and wipes handy is essential. A number of companies make antibacterial wipes and dispensers. 2XL's Guardian Station includes hand sanitizer, as well as a place for the disposal of wipes.
Dr. Bruce Sherman, inventor of the GymValet, a holder for equipment-sanitizing spray bottles and towels that attaches directly to fitness equipment, says he's frustrated when he sees a lack of accessible cleaning supplies in clubs. "You have a huge gym with a lot of equipment and maybe four bottles of cleaning solution, one in each corner. That's just not enough. A spray bottle and towel should always be within arm's reach of every piece of equipment to best ensure user-to-user equipment cleaning and sanitizing," Sherman notes, adding that maintaining a clean facility is as much about killing germs and viruses that reside on the surfaces of uncleaned equipment as it is about attracting and retaining members. "No one wants to work out in a dirty gym," Sherman says. "It's just gross, and bad business."
While there's really no substitute for scrubbing down high-touch areas in your facility, a number of companies offer solutions to supplement those efforts.
Spray it on
Rich Kozub is the athletic director at Holy Name High School, a private institution in Parma Heights, Ohio. Arguably the least glamorous part of Kozub's job is ensuring that the school's athletics facilities — six locker rooms, a weight room, a wrestling room, two gymnasiums and two athletics classrooms — remain clean and free of harmful germs.
Kozub notes that sticking to a regular cleaning schedule is the cornerstone of the school's fight against germs, and Holy Name uses a variety of methods and tools to ensure the cleanliness of its facilities. Most recently, the school invested in the Clorox® Total 360® System, an electrostatic sprayer that atomizes a cleaning solution so that it attaches to surfaces. Clorox suggests that high-touch areas still need to be wiped down before using the Total 360® System, but once that's done, the machine can cover 18,000 square feet per hour.
Says Kozub, "It saves us a heck of a lot of time and because of that, it saves on the labor of the maintenance crew."
Treat the air
A purely passive solution can be found in airPHX's technology, which uses non-thermal plasma to change a small percentage of the oxygen molecules in the air into Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). These oxygen variations then seek out molds, bacteria and viruses, oxidizing and destroying them at the cellular level. The company recommends one unit to treat an 8,000- to 10,000-square-foot area, depending on ceiling height.
"MRSA, E. Coli, Norovirus — they're all there but no one wants to talk about it," says Chris Mattice, national sales director for airPHX. "We've harnessed the technology to kill all of those bad germs — even Ebola and Anthrax — at a success rate of 96 to 99.9 percent. And we're doing it safely, with people present."
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA, is a type of staph bacteria that is resistant to many common antibiotics. It most often presents as a skin lesion. The CDC recommends the following tips for athletics facilities looking to guard against MRSA and other infections:
• Review cleaning procedures and schedules on a regular basis.
Turn the lights on A number of companies specialize in lighting solutions that are particularly effective germ killers.
Kenall has incorporated technology into two models of LED light fixtures that combine white ambient light with a specific type of lighting solution from a company called Indigo-Clean that kills bacteria. "This technology has been tested in a laboratory setting and has been shown to kill harmful bacteria," says Dr. Cliff Yahnke, director of clinical affairs for Indigo-Clean, adding that the technology is safe for use around humans and animals.
Indigo-Clean's technology uses a 405-nanometer light to target naturally occurring molecules within the bacteria to produce the aforementioned ROS. "These luminaires provide solid lighting efficacy and disinfection at basically the same cost as a standard LED luminaire," Yahnke says. "They bolster current cleaning methods by helping eliminate harmful bacteria in these types of spaces."
Don't forget the game equipment
High school, college and professional athletics programs need to worry about more than just their facilities. Sports equipment, such as helmets and pads, are another prime breeding ground for bad gunk. Sweaty helmets and shoulder pads should never be stuffed directly into a locker after a game. Global Ozone Innovations has been concentrating on this problem for a number of years. The company's Sports-O-Zone machines clean and disinfect equipment for college and professional sports teams across the country.
The Sports-O-Zone sanitizing system works a lot like a dishwasher. Equipment is loaded into the machine, the cycle runs and things come out germ-free thanks to a little help from ozone triatomic oxygen, a disinfectant gas that the company says ranks ahead of hydrogen peroxide, bleach and iodine in terms of germ-killing power.
The ROI in cleaning Budgets are always a concern when considering janitorial staff and cleaning products. It might be tempting to shift funds reserved for sanitizing wipes, towels and spray bottles to other, more-immediate concerns. That said, cleaning is a worthy investment for any facility. Making sure employees and customers stay healthy and safe is not only the right thing to do, it's also good business, as you'll be keeping staff on the job while offering clientele an often-overlooked value-add.
This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Life and Death Warding off superbugs in your facility ." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.