HEALTH TIPS

Can Your Gym Give You Meningitis?


Spin studio regulars are freaking out after a fellow member contracted the infection and died.

Members of a SoulCycle studio in Northern California are on the alert after one of the club’s members died of bacterial meningitis last week. Health officials are warning people that those who came into contact with the member that they may also be at risk.

According to ABC 7, Sevin Philips, a therapist who lived in San Rafael and worked in San Francisco, died Saturday from meningococcal meningitis, one of the most common forms of the infection. Up to 300 people may have come into contact with him, and have been notified by the gym and local health authorities.

The gym has done a deep clean of all of its rooms and equipment, and says the risk of exposure is low. However, it’s understandable that people would freak out after hearing this.

If you’re not familiar with bacterial meningitis, here’s what you need to know: Bacterial meningitis is a serious and deadly disease that can kill people in just a few hours, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. There are several different types of bacterial meningitis that are caused by different bacteria, but meningococcal meningitis, like other forms of meningitis, infects the lining of the brain and spinal cord.

Bacterial meningitis is spread from person to person through saliva or spit (so coughing or kissing can do it), as well as lengthy contact, like living with someone. However, the CDC says that most of the bacteria that cause meningitis are not as contagious as viruses that cause colds or the flu.

Here’s something even freakier: Healthy people can carry the bacteria that causes meningitis in their nose or throat with no issues or symptoms of the disease, the CDC says. Before you panic, know this: Most people who carry the bacteria never become sick, says Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., a board-certified infectious disease physician at the University of Pittsburgh and an affiliated scholar at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Health Security. (He says there are about 300 reported cases of meningococcal meningitis each year, but about one in 10 people carry the bacteria that can cause it.)

Adalja says that people who have had close, lengthy contact with a meningitis patient are the most at risk of contracting the infection, but it’s typically those who kissed him, or shared utensils, food, or a water bottle.

Luckily, this strain of meningitis is treatable if it’s caught early enough. Adalja notes that there are five strains of meningitis that people are protected against as part of the regular childhood vaccination schedule (provided they got the shot), and meningitis can be treated with antibiotics if it’s caught early. At that time, people usually have flu-like symptoms, Adalja says, but they can progress to confusion, seizures, and a coma.

To lower your already-low risk of contracting bacterial meningitis, the CDC recommends maintaining healthy habits, like not smoking and avoiding cigarette smoke, getting plenty of rest, and avoiding close contact with people who are sick.

While the news is freaky, Adalja says you shouldn’t panic and avoid the gym out of a fear that you’ll contract meningitis. “People need to not worry about this type of thing,” he says. “It is something that is relatively rare.”