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Common Infections You Can Catch at the Gym

You go the gym to for your health—but the gym itself can be a breading ground for germs and bacteria that could make you sick.

Folliculitis

What it is: An inflammation of the hair follicles on your body that may be caused by sweat and heat (heat rash), bacteria, and fungus, among many other causes,” says Ross Radusky, MD, dermatologist at SoHo Skin & Laser Dermatology, PC.

In the case of a heat rash, the pressure from your clothes can choke off hair follicles. Bacterial and fungal folliculitis can be spread by sharing towels and loofa sponges, says Dr. Radusky.

Symptoms: Look for red, sometimes tender bumps around each hair follicle. There may or may not be pus.

Ringworm (tinea corporis)

What it is: A common infection of the skin caused by a variety of fungi. You can catch it from skin-to-skin contact, dirty towels, wet gym shower floors, and other infected surfaces, says Dr. Radusky.

Symptoms: Look for a raised red patch of skin with scale along the periphery. Common areas for ringworm to show up include the chest, back, buttocks, and thighs—but in reality, the rash can be anywhere on your body.

Jock itch

What it is: Jock itch, otherwise known as tinea cruris, is a fungal infection of the groin. Despite the name, it can also affect women (often under the bra line); however, men get it more often because of friction and humidity, says Dr. Radusky.

Symptoms: “The first sign is usually itch,” says Dr. Radusky. “Next look for a light pink or red rash with scaly flakes, usually on the outer edge of the rash.

Athlete’s foot

What it is: “A common fungal infection of the foot that you get from skin-to-skin contact, wet gym shower floors, and pools,” says Dr. Radusky.

Symptoms: Itching is the most common complaint. Look for a raised red rash with scaling (much like ringworm); typically, the sides of the feet and between the toes are prone areas.

Lice

What it is: “Lice is an infestation of the head, groin, or body by wingless insects,” says Dr. Radusky. Note that lice can infest any curly haired parts of the body, including your chest, armpits, eyebrows, eyelashes, and beard. You need direct contact to get the bugs: Hair, brushes, hats, towels, clothing—if they’re from an infected person, tag, you’re it.

Symptoms: Intense itching is most common.

Plantar warts

What it is: An infection of the foot by a type of human papillomavirus (HPV).

Symptoms: Inspect your feet for cauliflower-like bumps that can have little black dots in them. “These are actually little blood vessels the virus hijacks from your circulation to keep it well fed, says Dr. Radusky.

Molluscum contagiosum

What it is: Molluscum contagiosum is an infection of the skin caused by a pox virus. You contract it through direct skin-to-skin contact, pools, dirty towels, and sexual contact, says Dr. Radusky.

Symptoms: Look for small, raised, round, pink, or skin-colored bumps, says Dr. Radusky. “These may be confused for pimples, and when you squeeze them a firm white secretion is seen. But be warned—those secretions are actually the most contagious part of the viral skin rash and you can infect other parts of the body,” says Dr. Radusky.

Toenail fungus

What it is: The most common cause of toenail fungus is distal subungual onychomycosis, the same fungus that causes athlete’s foot. And like athlete’s foot, it is commonly contracted from locker room floors and wet surfaces near pools.

Symptoms: You’ll notice a change in the texture of your toenails. Your toenails may become thickened and yellow, and may also have a crumbly texture.

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