Along with the new members packing your facility right now, your club is probably also packed with flu germs and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA).

The flu is a bigger concern than is MRSA, due to its seasonality, says Peter Sheldon, vice president for Coverall Health-Based Cleaning System, Glenview, IL. However, he says, “That is not to understate the threat posed by MRSA, which is growing everyday, and because it is a multi-drug resistant organism, it presents greater dangers for those who contract it.”

Flu viruses can survive on surfaces for up to 72 hours. MRSA is spread through contact with someone’s skin infection or personal items that have touched infected skin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A surface does not have to be sweaty, wet or even physically touched to become infected. A dry surface (body-contacted with no sweat) can be a transmission site, and particles in the air from coughs and sneezes can settle on equipment, too.

“News of an outbreak of any pathogen can damage a club’s reputation and, in turn, its customer retention and profits,” says Michael Gardner, sales manager at 2XL Corp., Broadview, IL.

However, the risk of MRSA in health clubs has been overblown mostly due to sensational journalism, says Bruce Sherman, president of GymValet/B & Specialty Concepts Inc., Beachwood, OH.

“Yes, it should be a real concern,” Sherman says about MRSA, “but the mechanisms and reality of transmission need to be better explained to health club participants and health club owners, directors and managers.”

Don’t let the beginning of the year member rush stop you from maintaining a proper cleaning schedule and emphasizing the importance of cleaning to staff and members, says Michael H. Hane, market development director of GOJO Industries’ health and fitness department. That sanitation plan should address all germs, involve thoroughly cleaning all surfaces, offer ample cleaning supplies for members and encourage everyone in a facility to practice good hygiene.

Reassuring members that your facility is clean is key, especially since studies show that club cleanliness is one of the top five reasons a member stays or leaves a club, Gardner says.

“We do not live in a sterile world,” Sherman says.

“A few germs are good for us. If someone is an overzealous ‘germ-o-phobe,’ they may not want to hang out at the gym. For everyone else, a little education, common sense and preventive behavior will go a long way towards living and exercising as healthfully as possible, even at the gym.”