Basketballs, Volleyballs Can Harbor Bacteria, Research Shows

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When you think of a surface in the gym with lots of germs and general grossness, your first pick might be something like a locker room bench. But according to a new study, volleyballs and basketballs could also be homes for bacteria.

A recent study presented at a meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine showed that Staphylococcus aureus bacteria can survive on a sports ball for three days in typical storeroom conditions. And even if a ball is sterilized, it can accumulate the bacteria when it's used.

"The overwhelming prevalence of Staph. aureus we encountered supports our understanding of the gym environment as a reservoir of germs," Joshua A. Cotter, a postdoctoral fellow in orthopedic surgery at the University of California, Irvine, who supervised the study, said in a statement. "Institutions, coaches, and athletes should take note of the role the sports ball can play as a vehicle for the transmission of potentially life-threatening germs."

The study was conducted as an undergraduate project by students at UC Irvine. For their study, the researchers analyzed the threat of Staph. aureus in three different settings: on the gym floor, on the hands of players, and on volleyballs and basketballs. For each setting, researchers either looked at levels of Staph. aureus on the surface in its natural state, as well as after it had been sterilized using a ultraviolet C light (or antibacterial soap, in the case of the players' hands).

Researchers then had players use the balls in the gym as they would during regular play. The more the players handled the balls, the more Staph. aureus accumulated, they found -- even when they had been sterilized beforehand.

Another gross germ hotspot at the gym? The water fountain, according to a 2011 study from Coverall Cleaning. Click through the slideshow for more germy gym spots:

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