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do athletes need to be careful?

mrsa is most frequently found in hospitals or other healthcare facilities, infecting people who are ill with weakened immune systems. however, in the past decade it has increasingly emerged as a cause of infections in healthy individuals, including athletes at all levels.

what is it? most have probably heard of a ?staph? infection. staphylococcus aureus (staph) are bacteria that are one of the most common causes of skin infections in the united states. mrsa (methicillin-resistant staphyloccus aureus) is a specific strain of staph infection that is resistant to the antibiotics (penicillin, etc.) most commonly used to treat these infections.

mrsa is most commonly transmitted by direct skin to skin contact through open skin lesions such as abrasions or hair follicles, etc. therefore, athletes who participate in contact sports may be at a higher risk to contract a mrsa infection. mrsa cases can also develop from shared towels, soaps, improperly treated whirlpools, and equipment (mats, pads, surfaces, etc.).

the center for disease control (cdc) has emphasized the ?five c?s framework? indicating primary risk factors for mrsa skin infections:

crowding; close skin to skin contact; contaminated items and surfaces (i.e., towels, razors, soap); compromised skin integrity (i.e., cuts or abrasions); cleanliness (i.e., poor hygiene).

what does it look like? staph or mrsa infections usually present as skin infections such as pimples, pustules and boils, which are red, swollen, and painful or have pus or other drainage. commonly these infections are misidentified as spider bites or confused with existing turf burns or abrasions.

what should you do? these skin lesions should be covered to help reduce the risk of spreading the infection, and the individual should be seen by a physician for proper treatment. it is important to note, that without the proper treatment, these infections can cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections, bone and/or joint infections, or surgical wound infections. the symptoms frequently seen with these more serious conditions include fever, chills, and shortness of breath.

how can mrsa infections be prevented? although staph and mrsa infections are treatable, the best way to combat these infections is to take measures to prevent them in the first place. the cdc recommends the following measures for preventing these infections:

frequently wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer; immediate showering with hot water and liquid immediate showering with hot water and liquid antibacterial soap following all practices and competitions; avoid sharing towels, equipment, razors, soap, and daily athletic gear, etc.; properly wash athletic gear and towels after each use; use a barrier (clothing or towel) between your skin and shared equipment; wipe surfaces of equipment before and after use;

clean and properly cover any open wounds such as turf burns, abrasions, etc. with an appropriate bandage; avoid whirlpools, hydrotherapy pools, cold tubs, swimming pools, and other common tubs if you have an open wound; maintain clean facilities and equipment; do not ignore skin infections, pimples, pustules, abscesses, etc. report these to a sports medicine staff member or physician immediately.

conclusion: due to the increased threat of mrsa infections to healthy individuals, athletes must take precautions to prevent contracting these infections. precautions to prevent contracting these infections. prevention is the key. athletes need to avoid sharing equipment and towels and maintain good hygiene. if an athlete or someone they know has what appears to be a staph or mrsa infection they should contact a physician for evaluation as soon as possible. do not ignore these skin lesions, as they could lead to more serious complications and hospitalization.

references: mrsa. available at:

goding, ann m., et al., ?athletic trainers and mrsa infections: what?s the score?? nata news, may 2007, pp 12-15.

about the author: darin pranzoni pt, atc is the sports medicine coordinator for wuesthoff rehabilitation services in rockledge, florida.

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