Learn how an infection control program can reduce bacteria by 95% in workout facilities

by Brianna Crandall — January 27, 2020 — Providing guidance for facilities managers (FMs) who oversee athletic training facilities, gyms, in-house weight rooms, multipurpose fitness centers or other workout facilities, University Hospitals Sports Medicine researchers, in partnership with GOJO, the inventor of PURELL hand sanitizer, found that an Infection Risk Reduction Program implemented in participating athletic training rooms reduced the overall amount of bacteria present by 95%, including completely eliminating the presence of influenza and multidrug-resistant organisms, such as MRSA.

The study, published in the January 2020 issue of the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) national publication Sports Health, concluded that a program that modifies hygiene behavior by connecting products, people and education can yield impactful infection control results and benefits.

UHSM/GOJO study on infection control program -- medical staff and student-athlete

UHSM and GOJO found that an Infection Risk Reduction Program implemented in athletic training rooms reduced the overall amount of bacteria present by 95%. Image courtesy GOJO

The risk of athletes contracting multidrug-resistant infections from bacteria breeding in athletic training rooms is a real concern, points out GOJO. Prior national studies of high school athletic training rooms have suggested over 40% of surfaces may be contaminated with Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Co-author Mark LaBelle, MD, University Hospitals Orthopedic Surgery, explained:

Our protocol was based upon principles used in the athletic training rooms in the National Football League and healthcare hygiene best practices. Our simplified protocol proved effective and provides a foundation for preventing infections in student-athletes at the collegiate and high school level not only locally, but across the country

The infection control program was piloted at two high schools and two colleges in Northeast Ohio, including Kent State University. Kent State Associate Athletic Director Trent Stratton said everything they do in their athletic training room revolves around the health and safety of student-athletes. “Even though we may think we’re doing a good job keeping the facility clean, having the stats to support it is extremely beneficial. At the end of the day, an infection can destroy a season,” said Stratton.

Student-athletes are in close contact in the shared environment of an athletic training room, as are those in other workout facilities, and in the presence of poor hygiene and contamination, can be exposed to a variety of germs that cause infection.

For the study, hand hygiene solutions (PURELL Advanced Hand Sanitizer and PURELL Brand HEALTHY SOAP) and a broad-spectrum one-step surface disinfectant spray (PURELL Professional Surface Disinfectant) were strategically placed throughout the athletic training rooms. Providing proven products and directing proper placement alone resulted in over 60% reduction in total bacteria.

After implementing a comprehensive solution that includes disinfectant products, protocols and educational resources, the participating athletic training rooms experienced a 95% reduction in total bacteria. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, specifically MRSA and Vancomycin resistant enterococcus (VRE), which were found on 24% of surfaces in the training room at the beginning of the study, were eliminated by the end of the study.

Additionally, influenza (the flu), which was initially detected on 25% of the analyzed surfaces, such as front door handles, drawer handles, water bottle lids and water cooler nozzles, was eliminated on surfaces sampled after implementation of the program.

Jim Arbogast, Ph.D., Vice President, Hygiene Sciences and Public Health Advancements, GOJO – inventor of PURELL hand sanitizer, stated:

This study shows that the combination of targeted cleaning, ideal product placement, and simple education plus tools, along with the trusted strength of PURELL products, can significantly reduce pathogens and the risk of infection among athletes and staff. Together, athletes, athletic trainers, athletic directors, and facility managers can sustain a safe environment, keeping athletes healthy and in the game. While this study looked at specific athletic training rooms, these same protocols can be applied beyond, into other areas of the athletic campus frequented by student-athletes, like locker rooms and weight rooms.

James Voos, MD, lead physician for the Cleveland Browns and Division Chief, UH Sports Medicine, remarked:

This collaborative study between University Hospitals Sports Medicine and GOJO demonstrates how organizations committed to the health and safety of athletes can develop innovative, scientifically proven programs that can be practically applied to all sports and levels of competition, in particular close contact sports such as wrestling, hockey, gymnastics, soccer or football — where athletes experience greater incidence of infection.

The full “Infection Risk Reduction Program on Pathogens in High School and Collegiate Athletic Training Rooms” study is available online. For infection prevention resources, including athlete infection prevention and cleaning checklists for optimal protection, and sport-specific athlete education posters, visit GOJO’s Athletic Facilities webpage.