In December, The Collegian reported on a letter from the Virginia Department of Health citing high levels of bacteria in the Weinstein Center for Recreation and Wellness. Since then, the Weinstein Center staff has worked to improve cleaning and maintenance of the recreation center.
Dr. Lynne Deanne, medical director at the university’s student health center, said in an email that there had been approximately 11 students who had suffered from similar skin infections between Oct. 13 and Nov. 2.
Virginia Department of Health officials issued a letter to the student health center and the Weinstein Center on Nov. 15, as part of an ongoing investigation of these increased cases of skin and soft tissue infections (SSTI) and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) at the university.
“Not all of these patients had lesions that were drained and cultured, some were just treated empirically,” Deanne said. “There were not culture results from all 11 proving each had MRSA.”
The Henrico County Health Department, in cooperation with the Virginia State Department of Health, began the investigation of the Weinstein Center after interviews with affected Richmond students revealed that “the majority of them utilized the cardio area (elliptical machines) and strength training areas (dumbbells) in the recreation center,” according to the letter obtained by The Collegian.
MRSA is a type of bacteria that is resistant to many antibiotics, according to the CDC. Staph and MRSA can cause different problems ranging from skin infections to pneumonia or bloodstream infections. MRSA was responsible for 100,000 deaths in the United States in 2007.
In the letter addressed to Deanne and Tom Roberts, assistant vice president of recreation and wellness, the Health Department summarized a Nov. 10 investigation conducted by District Epidemiologist Laura Young and Regional Epidemiologist Angela West.
The letter included detailed results after officials tested various locations around the wellness center, including the dumbbells, ellipticals and mats.
Bacteria levels above 1,000 RLU (red light units) indicate a “fail” and that the area needs to be thoroughly cleaned and re-tested. Levels of 501- 999 RLU indicate that “caution” is needed and the area needs to be cleaned. Anything below 500 RLU indicates acceptable levels.
The black mats tested at the wellness center had 2,423 RLU before the Health Department wiped the mat down. After the cleaning the area still had 1,019 RLU, a failing grade.
“In a high-use facility such as a fitness center, it’s not unusual to see these high levels, and the test did not confirm [that the] fitness center was any cause of SSTI or MRSA,” Roberts told The Collegian in November.
“SSTIs and MRSA infections vary in severity,” Young said in an email. “Many people are colonized with MRSA, meaning they carry it, but do not have symptoms of infection.”
The letter provided recommendations for environmental cleaning, infection control and the gym’s cleaning schedules.
As the center officials were revising their cleaning schedules and protocols over the last few months, they invited Young to provide a presentation at a staff training, Young said. During her training, Young discussed the importance of cleaning schedules and appropriate use of cleaning material.
She presented on the employee's role in decreasing bacterial spread in the facility and emphasized the importance of educating patrons about their own responsibility to decrease bacterial spread is important, Young said.
"We also provided training to employees on the proper process for cleaning," Marti Tomlin, associate director of facilities recreation and wellness, said in an email. Tomlin said the wellness center staff had since enhanced cleaning schedules and protocols.
Deanne said she had contacted the Henrico Health Department (HHD) in November to assist in determining if the patients, most of whom were females with an arm infection, had anything else in common.
“Despite our questioning, we were unable to determine a connection between all these patients,” Deanne said. “We provided contact information for all the patients and the HHD epidemiologist was able to talk to some, but not all, of the patients. Of those she spoke to, they had all worked out at the gym.”
Because recreation centers like the one on UR’s campus are “high-touch areas,” due to sharing of equipment, Deanne said she recommends gym-goers clean equipment and bathe after going to the gym.
Wellness center officials hung "cleaning tips flyers" around the recreation center. These flyers emphasize wiping down gym equipment after use and properly washing after using the center.
Deanne said she also recommends students “BYOM” — bring your own mat — when exercising, and make sure to clean their mat before and after each use.
“It is virtually impossible to keep all surfaces free of all potentially infectious agents at all times,” Deanne said. “This is why it is important for individuals to take responsibility for reducing their risk for infections.”
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