I wouldn't take this issue too seriously. What do you do when opening doors, in the subway, in a professional environment if you have to shake hands, shopping, in public lavatories, etc.? Gloves? Try as you may, you can't avoid it. You can only avoid thinking of it too much...
When I used to work out at my gym I didn't use gloves or anything while lifting heavy weight and got bruises on my hands. Also, while deadlifting, I would get bruises on my legs (tibialis anterior zone).
It could be dangerous if someone else left their sweat or blood recently and your open wounds had contact with that. Even without someone leaving fluids, it isn't safe to have your heavy weight caused wounds to have contact with the gym equipment. its a Risk.
I should probably clarify a bit with the inanimate object comment... I was referring to more serious stuff like HIV, hepatitis, etc.
It's funny because back in college (~5 years ago) I never wore gloves and I'd tear up my hands quite a bit. I always used chalk for my grip and didn't worry about much else. I'd just wash my hands after a workout and that would be that.
However, now I'm not really comfortable hitting the gym without full-fingered gloves and I wanted to see if I'm the only sick bastard thinking about this stuff.
If someone were bleeding from an open wound and you cut yourself and rubbed the open cut in their blood while it was dripping from their body, then yes, it is possible. Otherwise, unless you are sharing needles with someone, the chances of you just casually getting HIV from a dumbbell are simply non-existant. Wash your hands before you leave (or eat) and get on with your life.
I think you can protect yourself from germs in the gym by following the basic rules of gym etiquette:
Put a towel on the bench. If you sweat, wipe it up.
Two birds killed with one stone.
(Although, I agree with the guy who bitched about his school gym. My high school recently got a weight room bequeethed to it by a gym that went out of business. Great, except: A) the plates, bars, etc. are filthy; and B) high school students are filthy. I've been spraying everything in sight with disinfectant before I touch it.)
A good measure would be to not let your hands come into contact with your face when your at the gym. Also, when your using a towel, don't apply it near the nostrils, lips etc, wipe these areas with your shoulder instead. These measures will greatly cut down on the contraction and/or spread of bacteria if not eliminate it altogether
Lysol or some other brand wet wipes are your friend.
I go to the gym late so I know people have been sweating on the equipment all day especially the eliptical. I have the place all to myself so I wipe everything I use down with a Lysol wipe. When I am done with the eliptical I clean it well with a wipe as I feel it is only right after sweating all over it. But I don't just assume the gym staff has cleaned the equipment before I got to it.
While learning how to do cleans I scuffed up my shins pretty well too. Long story short, I got swollen lymph nodes in the lower abdominal region which occur when an infection enters through the lower body. (I wasn't messing with anyone during this time so I didn't get any sexual infection!ahhaha) I wonder if it was from the barbell? Anyway, I spray the bar down these days before and after I lift.
I have a hard time believing that scruffed knees led to that infection unless you were immunocompromised. There was no infection around your shins? Were you sick previous to this?
Either way, it seems like some are deathly afraid to even lift. It is a community area. Treat it that way and get on with your lives. Wash your hands when you get done. Quit playing with your faces with your hands. I admit that people coughing into the air truly pisses me off, but our bodies are generally not that fragile. We are exposed to minor pathogens all day long. If some of you could see the crap that we actually sleep in daily, most would change their bed sheets every single day.
This is stuff I think about alot especially with all the gross people out there... There have been a few good tips here, here's another. Wash your hands before you pee. Think about it the bars are full of germs... Why would you put you hand on your weiner after touching all that shit. I'm actually surprised more people don't do this.