There be Monsters!

Hockey Equipment Contains a Cesspool of Bacterial Growth

There was a time in the not too distant past when I like too many other folks naively ignored the possibilty that there was anything more disgusting lurking in the equipment bag than an awful stench. The warnings had been coming for years but for the most part they fell on deaf ears. Outfits like ESPORTA encouraged players to clean their equipment (using the ESPORTA process of course), and some did, but many others shrugged it off as too expensive or as "Those guys are just trying to scare us into giving them money".

For just about every year I've been sharpening skates I've been felled at least once a season by some mysterious yet virulent and debillating flu-like affliction. I routinely blamed the Typhoid Marys in the hallway who coughed and hacked everywhere, and it never occurred to me to look elsewhere. While on the mend from a particularly nasty bout of "Mystery Flu", I had the opportunity to peruse the following article. Suddenly the lights came on and I researched other similar articles. They all had the same message, and it was that I was being poisoned by the very skates I was sharpening.

Today I'm not as cavalier as I used to be about stinky skates. I still have to handle them in order to sharpen them, but now I view them as not just an income source but also as a prospective infection. I keep a bottle of hand sanitizer (Purell) in my shop and during each lull in the workload I use it on my hands. At mealtime or snacktime I use my hand sanitizer and scrub with soap and water. So far so good, and I'm not getting sick like I used to.

From the Winnipeg Free Press, Saturday, December 11, 2004

OTTAWA - Felix Skora unfolded the sheet of paper and slid it across the desk for his guest to see. The information on it was numbing.

"This is very bad," Skora said quietly.

Germ warfare. That's what Skora's Gatineau laboratory, Micro B found in Randy Boswell's hockey bag after we took it there to see if the Can West News reporter's soppy, rank equipment posed a hazard to his health and to those around him when he's on the ice trying.

Skora suggested some fast action be taken in the laundry room. "There is a need to disinfect this equipment," Skora said. Possibly with chlorine, alcohol and perhaps washed at a high temperature. Then you should be able to eliminate the bacteria, the yeast, the mould.

What Micro B found lurking about Boswell's equipment was a cesspool of bacterial growth. "Very high concentrations," Skora explained.

Dr. Barry Dworkin, who writes a health column for the Ottawa Citizen, said the bacteria could include numerous types of pathogenic germs, viruses, and fungal substances which can lead to a variety of illnesses and skin infections, some of which he's treated.

While the lab didn't test for moulds and yeast, Skora said the high bacterial concentrations would virtually guarantee their presence. In fact, said Dr. Dworkin, heat and humidity stimulate growth of fungal matter. Dworkin also said that in extreme cases,dirty hockey equipment can be a habitat for the Hepatitis B virus, which causes very high fever, weakness and jaundice. The virus is found in infected blood and other body fluids,like sweat and saliva.

"It's disgusting," Dworkin said of what can lurk in a stinky hockey bag. "Having dirty sports equipment," he said "is no different than not following routine hygiene like changing your socks and underwear." Bacterial and viral infected equipment is a very easy means of transmitting infection. People who play sports are particularly susceptible to infections for various reasons: Germs grow when athletic equipment gets warm and moist; sweatingsoftens the skin's main barrier, the stratum corneum to the body; and germs enter the body from scrapes, cuts and bruises.

Professional hockey players - who are covered from head to toe in protective padding, and sweat profusely during play - can be very susceptible to infection because many, for superstitious reasons refuse to update their equipment. But at least the professionals and players through Junior and University ranks have training staffs responsible for the maintenance of the equipment. It's those who play at the minor levels, children and beer leaguers who have the most to worry about if they leave their wet equipment in their hockey bags until it's time to play again.

Not hanging up wet, smelly equipment to dry is a major reason for severe bacterial contamination. While some may wash their jerseys, hockey socks and undergarments before the next game, leaving the rest of the stuff in the bag, like Boswell does is not uncommon. There doesn't seem to be a reasonable explanation from those who let their equipment rot, other than offering the frequent refrain, "It's kind of a guy thing."

Allowing equipment to dry kills a lot of bacteria,although Dworkin suggested that cleaning equipment with disinfectants should also be part of the process, to make sure you're getting more bacteria and any spores left by the dead germs.

It is highly recommended that players do not share any piece of equipment.

Hugh Adami

Canwest News Service

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