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MRSA Increasing Among Athletes

Jun 26, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP We’ve long reported on the escalating issues with Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, commonly referred to as MRSA and now, CA-MRSA, or community-associated MRSA.  MRSA is a type of staph that causes infections resistant to most antibiotics and last year, seriously sickened 94,000 Americans.  Recent deaths include five school children with school infections in the dozens.  MRSA also infected players from four NFL teams, some NYC firefighters, and seems to strike people in close physical contact.  Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates place last year’s MRSA death toll at 19,000, with 2,000 healthy people dying from CA-MRSA.

MRSA was associated with extended hospital stays, but now, CA-MRSA is striking healthy individuals, raising fears it can strike anyone, anywhere, anytime.  The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology reported last year that nearly five percent of U.S. patients were infected or colonized with MRSA.  MRSA is resistant to all but the one antibiotic of last resort when not treated properly.  Formerly used in the most potent cases, this drug is being used more and more and with decreasing success.  Without treatment or with incorrect diagnosis and treatment, MRSA spreads rapidly, leading to respiratory failure and surgeries, attacking vital organs like the lungs and heart.  Survivors are not always returned to their pre-MRSA condition, losing limbs, hearing, and full use of damaged organs.

Dermatologists report MRSA infections have become increasingly common among athletes, including high school and college athletes.  In the report entitled, “Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and athletes,” published online in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, dermatologist Brian B. Adams, MD, MPH, FAAD, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Cincinnati and director of dermatology at the Veterans Administration Medical Center, in Cincinnati, said, “Our review found that physical contact, shared facilities and equipment, and poor hygiene all contribute to MRSA among athletes.”

The biggest culprit is football, but rugby and wrestling are also high-risk sports.  One study conducted on the St. Louis Rams found nine percent of the players had MRSA.  Adams pointed out that players affected tended toward higher body mass indices and played lineman or linebacker positions.  “Considering all factors … frequent antibiotic use, compromised skin barriers, skin contact between players, close proximity of teammates, and inadequate hand and personal hygiene … may have contributed to the team’s MRSA outbreak … infections found in players from an opposing team suggested that transmission may have occurred during play,” said Adams.

Studies of high school and college football players revealed shared facilities were responsible for MRSA.  One high school dance member developed MRSA and the only link to the football team was use of a shared room.  Adams referred to a United Kingdom study involving a rugby team that concluded “that the outbreak probably resulted from sustained physical contact rather than from transmission through shared facilities or equipment.”  Studies show that wrestlers, who often engage in prolonged physical contact and experience frequent mat burns, may be prone to MRSA, with some studies indicating that transmission “may have occurred through the use of shared items instead of personal contact … even in largely non-contact sports … outbreaks of MRSA infections have been reported–suggesting that shared facilities or shared personal items were the likely culprit,” said Adams.

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