I thought I would share this interesting article. Germs in your gym bag by FIONA DUFFY - 27th March 2007 You might be feeling virtuous as you zip up your gym bag and head off home after that strenuous workout. But you could be walking off with more than just feel-good endorphins. Experts are warning that sports gear - and even your gym bag - can harbour a host of unpleasant bacteria. FIONA DUFFY reports on the germs lurking in your kit. SWIMMING GOGGLES These prevent your eyes being irritated by chlorine and other chemicals in a swimming pool, but used incorrectly, they can pose health risks. Acanthamoeba keratitis is a painful and potentially blinding condition affecting the cornea - the transparent covering at the front of the eye. The organism which causes it, Acanthamoeba, is found everywhere, including chlorinated pools. People who wear contacts lenses are more at risk because they are more likely to have minor abrasions or dry areas on their eye which can become infected, says Kevin Lewis, president of the College of Optometrists. Failing to rinse your goggles and allowing them to dry completely before storing encourages mould and bacteria, increasing the risk of conjunctivitis and infection of the lashes, eyelids or skin around the eyes. Preventative action: Avoid swimming in contact lenses and wear prescription goggles. "If you want to wear goggles over contact lenses, make sure they completely seal the eye," says Mr Lewis. "If water does leak in, it defeats the object of wearing goggles and risks infection. After swimming, remove and disinfect your lenses." Optometrists stock prescription goggles and will be able to advise on fitting and adjusting the eye cup for maximum comfort and fit. Choose goggles which carry the British Standard BS 5883: 1996. As chlorine can eat away at the seals, rinse goggles in clean water, says Ian Anderson, chairman for the charity the Eyecare Trust. Replace at the first sign of leakage or damage, and never share, as this can spread infection. TOWELS Sharing towels has been linked to the spread of a new type of MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) in athletic and sports teams. "Community-acquired strains of MRSA are quite different from the hospital type," says Dr Sally Bloomfield of the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene in London. "They have acquired the ability to produce a potent tissue toxin called Panton-Valentine Leukocidin (PVL), which can lead to skin and soft tissue infections, including flesh-eating forms. "These bacteria can infect the young and healthy. Transmission via close contact, sharing towels and sports equipment is a significant risk factor." More than half of us carry the 'old type' of Staphylococcus aureus on our skin. Anyone with broken skin - cuts, wounds or abrasions - is at risk of contracting a staph infection from someone else. You can also pass on threadworm parasites and infections such as diarrhoea and tummy upsets through towels, says Professor Jean Emberlin of the University of Worcester. Preventative action: If using a towel to wipe machine handles or place over seats in the gym, don't use it to wipe sweat off your hands or face - there's a danger of picking up other people's germs. Use separate towels for your body and the equipment. To avoid the spread of fungal infections, don't use a towel that's been used on your feet or underarms or had contact with the floor. Wash gym towels after every use at 60 degrees - or 40 degrees with a bleach-based powder. EARPLUGS Swimmers' ear (otitis externa) is an infection caused by bacterial or fungal growth in the ear canal. It is caused by water becoming trapped, which encourages bacteria to grow. Though earplugs can help prevent this, studies show many aren't effective, says Jeremy Lavy, consultant ENT surgeon at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital in London. The ear canal is naturally curved, so is difficult to seal effectively. The danger is that water will leak past the plugs. Some with sharp edges can damage the sensitive skin of the ear canal, which increases the risk of infection. "It's not unknown for wax earplugs to get pushed in so far that you can't get them out and need to have them removed by a specialist," says Mr Lavy. "Swimming underwater can force them in further." Conventional plugs can become dirty with ear wax and detritus. And the thin, sensitive ear canal skin can easily be damaged, leading to infection. Preventative action: The most effective, comfortable and easy-to-insert waterproof earplug is cotton wool impregnated with Vaseline. "As Vaseline is hydrophobic, it repels water, and the soft cotton wool fits easily into the ear canal," says Mr Lavy. If you do use conventional earplugs, wash them with soap and water and allow to dry properly before replacing in their container. Never re-use earplugs after suffering an ear infection And pull your swimming cap over your ears to keep earplugs in place, says Helen Gorman of swim equipment specialists Zoggs.