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Top 10 Diseases You Can Get from a Dirty Gym

by John Munoz
fact checked by Rachel Jones

Going to the gym is critical for both mental and physical health. However, as much as it may make you feel good, gyms can be a gross hotbed of disease-causing microbes that negatively impact your health and fitness.

Within the moist *ew* and enclosed environment, millions of bacteria and deadly viruses harbor on weights, yoga mats, and machines. That sweaty butt print on the thigh master is more insidious than you think.

These unfortunate viruses can travel as far and deep as your bones, resulting in a nasty and catastrophic outcome. And you happen upon a dirty gym, your chances of taking some of those viruses home increase.

Let’s take an unfortunate look at the top 10 diseases you can get from a dirty gym.

10 Pink Eye


Also known as conjunctivitis, Pink Eye is an inflammation or irritation of both the inner and the outer eyelid membrane (conjunctiva). The inflammation then makes the whites of your eye turn pink or reddish.

Pink eye’s main symptoms are itchiness, a gritty feeling in your eyes, reddening and itchiness of the eye, and discharge or tearing that forms a crust at night. Anything that involves a “crust” that isn’t food is terrible. This “crust” can prevent the eye from opening after a long night’s sleep.

While it is highly irritating, the infection rarely affects vision. Seek urgent medical care before the condition worsens. For those who use contact lenses, stop using them as soon as the symptoms begin. Contacts will only hold the bacteria and cause more irritation. 

The lesson here? Don’t touch your eyes after touching gym equipment! And wash your hands.

9 Ringworm (Tinea Corporis)


As the name suggests, ringworm is a fungal infection that resembles a scaly circle with red bumps along the periphery or ring-shaped that can occur anywhere on your body. Although it is not actually a worm, ringworm thrives in damp environments. You can get it from shared dirty towels, skin contact, wet gym shower floors, or any other infected shared surfaces.

Unfortunately, ringworm is highly transmissible and can easily spread before an individual experiences any symptoms. Some of the common parts of the skin it affects include thighs, chest, buttocks, and back.

The rash can be literally anywhere on your skin.

Key symptoms are itchiness on the affected area and small circular bumps. If you don’t treat ringworm in its early stages, it can spread to other parts of the body. 

You can avoid the infection by using anti-fungal shampoo to wash up after every session at the gym. Also, it should be a given, don’t share gym towels with other people. Gross.

8 Athletes’ Foot 


Athletes’ foot is a fungal infection that affects the groin area and feet. Yup, you read correctly, groin.

The fungus triggers a red and itchy rash which may cause the skin to peel or blister. Athlete’s foot is commonly a result of skin-to-skin contact, pools, or wet gym floors, making the gym a hotbed for such infections. Usually, the first sign of an athletes’ foot infection is parched and cracked skin between the toes.

That’s why people suggest you bring a pair of shower sandals if using the locker room to wash up afterward.

While fungi are everywhere, you can easily come into contact with fungal infections at the gym by walking barefoot. Gym goers should avoid putting on sweaty shoes and wearing the same socks every day. I feel like sweaty shoes would be uncomfortable anyway. A gym version of trench foot. These are common breeding places for these types of fungi.

7 Folliculitis/Hot Tub Rush


Folliculitis is a common illness that occurs due to inflamed hair follicles on the body. This results in acne or itchy red bumps around the affected hair follicle. It is caused by staph, fungi, or clogged sweat ducts. 

You can easily pick up the bacteria or fungus at the gym if you share towels, use dirty gym equipment, and in hot tubs and swimming pools that aren’t properly chlorinated.

You can also be your own enemy when it comes to folliculitis. Your own sweat can make you vulnerable to this infection as the pressure from tight-fitting clothes clogs the hair follicles. 

So rinse off after a workout, people! And wipe down your sweaty gym equipment. Humans share many things, but, to bring up the butt sweat again, no one wants your butt sweat!

6 Plantar Warts/ HPV


Plantar warts are a result of human papillomavirus (HPV). They affect the soles of the feet. Plantar warts are bumpy and rough with thick skin with little black or red dots. In most cases, they form a tender-to-touch cluster on the affected feet or hands. Plantar warts can be contracted in gyms by walking barefoot, especially in damp areas, and by using contaminated machines or equipment.

Again, can we get a clap track here? Wipe down your machines!

It may not be noticeable to many people, and some types of HPV may cause cervical cancer and genital warts. It is uncomfortable and you’ll definitely need medical attention. As a gym-goer, prevention is certainly better than the cure. 

5 Herpes


While herpes is not commonly contracted at the gym, it is still possible to pick it up. This virus can result in genital warts or cold sores. Herpes virus typically enters the body through open cuts or wounds that cause blisters on the mouth. In some patients, it is accompanied by cold and flu-like symptoms. 

True, it is mostly a sexually transmitted infection. But it can also spread through sharing saliva with a person infected with oral herpes, utensils, razors, or towels. 

So I guess, don’t gnaw on any gym equipment handles.

Another type of herpes, herpes simplex or HSV-1, is also referred to as mat herpes. Mat herpes is common among athletes who participate in contact sports like wrestling and boxing. Fortunately, it is highly unlikely to pick it from surfaces like the gym equipment or the floors. 

4 Common Cold and Flu


Cold and flu and other respiratory infections are the easiest to spread, especially if people are shamelessly and rudely sneezing and coughing in an enclosed environment. These respiratory illnesses, while mild and less threatening, can develop into serious infections not treated. 

Cold symptoms include sweating, fever and chills, sore throat, cough, headache, congestion, fatigue, and weakness. In some instances, flu is confused with a cold. However, the flu adds a fever.

But as easily as it spreads, it is also easy to prevent. Cover your coughs and sneezes. If you use your hands, wash them. Otherwise, you spread those germs to dumbbells, railings, mats, and machines, among other workout equipment.

On the same note, avoid putting your hands to your eyes, mouth, or nose. Gym instructors should advise clients to skip sessions if they feel unwell or have infections. 

3 Impetigo


Impetigo, also another highly infectious disease, is caused by staph or streptococcus bacteria. The bacteria result in wounds that can ooze and crust over. Again with the crust.

These bacteria live on anyone’s skin but they usually aren’t harmful. However, an open cut invites them into the body and can make you sick. Most impetigo patients are children who are 2 to 5 years old.

Adults, too, can contract it through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. At the gym, you can contact this infection by touching contaminated machines, floors, or sinks. You can also pick it up from shared items like towels and mats.

While it is the responsibility of gym owners to ensure that common areas, equipment, and tools are sanitized, it is also a personal responsibility to keep yourself safe during workout sessions.

2 Staph


One-third of individuals carry some type of staphylococcus on their skin and don’t experience symptoms from it. But once it enters the body, it’s a whole different story.

In most cases, a staph infection looks like a red bump or pus on the skin. It can grow warm when you touch it and swell, causing boils. Chances of contracting staph infection are high if you have open cuts or scratches/sores on your skin, or through sharing personal items like a towel, and exercising on a dirty mat or floor—which we don’t advise you do.

You may also experience fever as the infection spreads into your skin, resulting in pericarditis, pneumonia, and meningitis. Yeah, it can escalate fairly quickly. 

If you do not treat staph, the infected person can develop a type of staph known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). MRSA is particularly dangerous if it enters the bloodstream. However, it is mostly transmitted through skin-to-skin contact and not surface to person. 

Keeping a safe distance, avoiding skin-to-skin contact, and proper hygiene is critical in preventing the spread of this disease.

1 Coronavirus


Coronavirus (COVID-19), a highly transmittable disease that has ravaged the world since 2019, is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. You can catch COVID from an infected person’s nose and mouth through tiny liquid particles when they sneeze, speak, cough, or breathe. You can also get it after touching contaminated or unsanitized surfaces and workout machines and then touching your mouth, eyes, or nose.

Common symptoms include fever, tiredness, and dry cough. You may also experience fewer common ones such as sore throat, loss of smell and taste, diarrhea, headache, and a rash. In some cases, people who fall ill with COVID-19 may experience only mild symptoms and recover quickly. 

Sanitation, safe distance, masking, and general hygiene are some control measures that can prevent transmission.

For highly contagious infections such as the Coronavirus, make sure you’re going to a spotless gym. Look for sanitizing spray and wipes and do your part — wipe down the machine. Don’t be gross.

fact checked by Rachel Jones