False MRSA rumors cloud fitness center

Photo provided by Queens

Queens’ fitness center hurried move to the basement of Belk Residence Hall over the summer prompted rumors that the MRSA bacteria was found. But campus health and recreation officials say no cases of antibiotic-resistant MRSA or other, more common staph infections have been reported, and that a newly installed air conditioning system will help prevent the growth of bacteria and mold.

The MRSA scare started circulating because students were allowed to work at the fitness center’s new location before it was completely set up.

Patrick Motter, assistant director of campus recreation and engagement, said he contacted the Queens Health and Wellness Center after hearing that MRSA was active in the Queens’ community. “I had called the Health and Wellness Center because various students and my fitness helpers had come directly to me asking if the rumor about MRSA in the fitness center was true. Before I firmly denied it, I checked with the campus nurses.”

Jill Perry, director of the Health and Wellness Services, said usually at the beginning of the semester “we have seen three or four cases of staph, but so far there have been no signs. Could there be someone out there that went to urgent care or back home for antibiotics? Yes. (But) most people are pretty aware and most health care professions will tell the patient to report it.”

Nurse Perry said the difference between MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) and staph often confuses people: MRSA is a type of staph infection. While regular staph can be treated with methicillin, MRSA cannot be because it is resistant to methicillin, hence the name.  When someone is diagnosed with MRSA, they are given a normal antibiotic, but sometimes even after being put on an antibiotic, the MRSA still tend to grow worse.

MRSA grows quickly and is considered a more aggressive staph. Perry says another common misconception about MRSA is that people tend to categorize it as a “flesh eating” type of staph, but that is false. To identify MRSA: it starts out looking like a pimple and appears most often on an arm or leg. It might start out around a centimeter and will grow in time. “It looks red and raised. You could say it looks angry,” said Perry.

When a case of staph is identified, the Health and Wellness Center follows a process of letting people know when there have been frequent cases of staph in the community. “I do not tell who it is of course because it’s their business, but if we see a case and they have worked out at the fitness center, then I will call the head of the fitness center and say, ‘Hey, we’ve seen a case,’” said Perry.

On July 1, the fitness center was closed in Wireman Residence Hall to begin the transition over to Belk Residence Hall. The location change was due to the construction of the forthcoming Greek Village.

“We were looking for a large space that was not being utilized on campus and basically be able to fit as much equipment as possible. The move had to start without as much student input as we would have liked, had we had the student population around,” said Motter.

Belk Residence Hall’s basement before was just being used for storage, and the storage was  relocated to other locations around campus.

Motter said that once the material in storage was moved out, crews did a deep clean and then started painting immediately after. New air conditioning also was added, pulling in air from the outside and sucking out the old air and allowing fresh air to circulate in the workout area. That helps prevent the growth of bacteria and the growth of mold.

“I assure students that the campus’ services clean the fitness center at least twice a day. That includes wiping down all the equipment, vacuuming and sweeping, moving all of the trash,” said Motter.

Staph and bacteria can be killed with Clorox or Lysol cleaning products. Motter is confident that the fitness center is constantly being cleaned. Students also are strongly considered to clean up after themselves.

Still, freshman Meghan Cornell was hesitant to continue working out in the fitness center after hearing the rumor. “It grosses me out to think that there could be MRSA on my elliptical,” said Cornell.

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Published by students of Queens University of Charlotte, 1900 Selwyn Avenue, Charlotte, N.C. 28274.