MRSA Infections and How Athletes are at Risk

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), is quickly becoming a widespread threat to athletes in all sports. MRSA is a bacterium that has developed resistance to most common antibiotics and usually colonizes the nose. This antibiotic resistant bacteria has crossed over into the athletic world. MRSA is quickly becoming a widespread threat to athletes in all sports.  Bacterial infections in athletes are quite common, and they inhibit their ability to compete and perform at their best. The fact that MRSA has become increasingly resistant to antibiotics creates a serious problem for both athletes and doctors since effective treatment options will be further limited.

Many of the first MRSA infections in athletes were reported in football.  Many college teams have had major difficulties controlling the spread of the bacteria, which is usually through person to person contact. The New England Journal of Medicine published a study that linked MRSA in athletes to the abrasions caused by artificial turf [1]. In addition, the State Department of Health in Texas did three studies and found that football players were 16 times more likely to be infected than the national average [2]. Sport players in football, wrestling, and soccer are among at highest risk of spreading the bacteria due to the constant bumping, hitting and direct contact with teammates and opponents. These sports also have more exposed skin and open wounds when practicing or competing.  Wounds such as turf burn abrasions, fingernail scratches or a small open blister allow the bacteria to cause an infection.  In addition, direct contact with contaminated towels or equipment can further spread the bacteria.  Once an infection develops in an athlete, it can quickly spread through the team and to opponents.

When a MRSA breakout does occur, games are often postponed, entire locker rooms are disinfected, and players are sent home. Grant Hill, seven-time NBA all-star, understands too well the dangers of MRSA. In 2003, he developed a serious MRSA infection on his ankle and began experiencing high fevers before his body went into shock. It took him six months before fully recovering [3]. To prevent the spread of such MRSA infections in athletes, it would be wise not to share towels, razors, equipment, deodorant, balms and ointments and avoid whirlpools and walking barefoot in change rooms until all wounds are healed.

MRSA is a serious problem in athletics.  However, it can often be prevented by practicing good hygiene and prevention. This may include everything from having the athlete clean their equipment, weights, mats, and workout machines after each use, maintaining a clean locker room, washing uniforms and gear with hot water and chlorine, and training athletes, coaches and medical staff to recognize infected wounds.

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