Athlets Should be Aware of the Dangers of Spreading Staph (Staphylococcus) Mediated Skin Infection
Staphylococcus, or Staph, refers to a group of bacteria. The most common type of Staph causing infection is called Staphylococcus aureus, which often causes skin infections like impetigo and boils. Staph can also cause infection of the deeper skin layers (called cellulitis), bone infections, and muscle or joint infections. Rarely, Staph may cause other serious infections, such as internal infections (known as abscesses), pneumonia, and heart infections.
Staph bacteria are not uncommon in health care settings. In fact, they account for a large number of hospital-related infections each year.It can cause infection when it gets into skin through small cuts or scrapes, or through skin which may be affected by conditions such as eczema.
Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is one of these types of bacteria which is now found among athletes, military recruits and others in the general population. What is particularly concerning to medical experts is that MRSA is resistant to many common antibiotics.
An MRSA infection causes skin and soft tissue lesions and, when left untreated, can invade deeper structures such as bone and muscle, or even the blood stream – and can be quite serious.There are many different kinds of staph infections, and even MRSA encompasses a wide number of bacteria. Some are resistant to many antibiotics while others are resistant to only a few,” Bradley says. “Fortunately, the MRSA bacteria acquired in the community is only resistant to a few, including penicillins and cephalosporins.
We've seen outbreaks in athletes, collegiate athletes and professional football players. Since staph is acquired primarily by direct human contact, anyone with a break in their skin who has a lot of contact with others is potentially at risk,” says Bradley.
CLEVELAND - Brian Russell had no idea what hit him. A guy who routinely tackles 250-pound running backs head-on and occasionally gets pulverized by rampaging 350-pound NFL linemen for a living nearly saw his season end because of a microscopic germ. The Cleveland Browns safety was flattened by a staph infection that hospitalized him during the preseason.
I went from being in tiptop shape, to a few hours later, being knocked on my butt and having surgery," Russell said, recalling his scary scrape with a skin bacteria that's becoming harder for antibiotics such as penicillin to defeat.
"It happened just like that."
Stories like Russell's are becoming more common. Staph infections, in varying and sometimes deadly forms, are being reported in greater numbers across Ohio and nationwide as more virulent and resilient strains are infecting high school, college and professional athletes.
Football players, wrestlers and even fencers have contracted methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, a serious superbug once isolated to hospitals and health-care settings that has found its way into locker rooms, weight rooms and athletic training facilities. Despite widely available information about the dangers of skin infections, staph has continued spreading.
"We don't know why," said Dr. Steve Gordon, the Cleveland Clinic's department chairman of infectious disease. "It's why we encourage everyone to practice proper hygiene, especially athletes who can be more at higher risk."
An alarming rise in cases in the general population and athletic community has led to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue warnings about the dangers of staph. The CDC has worked closely with several sports organizations, including the NFL and NCAA to educate athletes on hygiene and preventive measures.
NFL players are advised to frequently wash their hands with soap and water, to report skin lesions to their team's medical staff, to wash cuts with soap and water and apply the proper dressings daily.
Still, the problem has grown.
Since 2003, at least three NFL teams — the Browns,St. Louis Rams and Washington Redskins — have documented multiple cases of staph infections. Last summer, two Toronto Blue Jays players contracted staph, which prompted the club to have its clubhouse sterilized.
This fall, three high school football players in suburban Lakewood were hospitalized for staph infections. Their school was one of several in the Cleveland area that reported multiple staph cases this year. Health officials aren't sure if the cases were related.
But even before the strain started spreading, staph has long been a health hazard for athletes who share towels, whirlpools and common areas like locker rooms.
The bacteria is typically found in the nasal passages and on the skin of healthy people, but it is potentially deadly when it enters the body through scratches and scrapes.
Once inside, it can cause blood and joint infections, and pneumonia.
"I was in the most pain that I have ever felt ever in my life," said Cavaliers forward Drew Gooden, who contracted a staph infection in his right leg three years ago while with the Orlando Magic. "I kept playing on it, thinking it was going to heal but the infection got worse and worse to the point where my leg swelled up and I couldn't bend my knee."
Athletes aren't alone as targets for staph.
A study this year funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than 59 percent of all skin infections in U.S. emergency rooms have been caused by MRSA. The staph, which enters through lesions in the skin and grows best in damp areas, has confounded doctors and pharmacists looking for an antibiotic to fight it.
The proportion of infections due to MRSA ranged from 15 percent to as high as 74 percent in some hospitals, the study showed.
This summer, after five Redskins players were infected, the team had its practice facility sprayed with a sterilizing agent that controls the growth of bacteria and mold.
The club also installed new carpeting and painted the locker room, weight room, training room and other areas at Redskins Park in Ashburn, Va. In addition, benches in the locker room were replaced with individual wooden stools for each player, and a 15-year-old whirlpool bath was removed.
The team has had no incidents of staph since.
"The thing that I think is most important is educating the players what to look for, being smart about when you have an open skin lesion, don't be getting in common whirlpools and things like that. You've got to really clean them good after you get them," said Bubba Tyer, the Redskins' trainer for 35 years.
"In the old days, when we played on Astroturf when it was new, remember all the burns and everything we'd get? We'd always put a bottle of surgical scrub soap in the shower and let them shower with that," he said. "We've done things like that, and it's working out well so far."
MRSA is passed person-to-person through skin contact, and while its symptoms are normally mild, it can be fatal if left untreated.
In 2003, Ricky Lannetti, 21, a senior wide receiver at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa., died suddenly from a staph infection. Friends and teammates remembered him not feeling well leading up to his final game, but he didn't think anything was seriously wrong.
For Russell, a tender elbow at first seemed like nothing out of the ordinary. He figured it came from one of many blows taken and given during training camp and in an Aug. 26 preseason game on the artificial turf in Buffalo.
But as he relaxed at home during an evening a few days after facing the Bills, Russell complained to his wife, Leslie, that he was hurting more than normal.
"She was like, 'C'mon, get outta here, you get those (scratches) every day,'" he said.
"It didn't look like anything to worry about," she said.
But overnight, Russell's sore elbow became horribly swollen and he and Leslie knew something was wrong.
"In a couple hours, it blew up, Russell said. "It was real, real big. By the time they got me to the hospital, my arm was overrun by the infection."
While not an outbreak, the Browns' alarming rise in staph cases brought the club to request assistance from the Cleveland Clinic, its healthcare provider and a sponsor. The Clinic twice sent a team to examine the team's headquarters and indoor practice field house in Berea, Ohio.
The Clinic concluded the team was following proper procedure and CDC recommendations to prevent staph and that the five cases involving players were unrelated.
Russell's bout with staph was similar to what happened to teammates Ben Taylor and Braylon Edwards, who both had elbow scratches that became infected. Browns tight end Kellen Winslow and center LeCharles Bentley battled staph following knee surgeries.
Russell credited team trainer Marty Lauzon and the team's medical staff for making a quick diagnosis and getting him treatment.
"It was crazy," he said, rubbing his hand over the long incision scar on his right elbow. "Lucky for me our doctors recognized it immediately."
Russell, who has begun wearing long sleeves as protection and a precaution, will never look at a cut the same way.
"All I had was a sore elbow, something where you think you might have knocked it on a door or on a wall," he said. "It was a little abrasion that I've had thousands of times."
Anyone with a break in their skin can be infected, so what's the best way to prevent MRSA?
- Cover the skin break, cut or wound with a bandage so the staph bacteria can't get in.
- If you have an open wound, wash it daily with soap and water.
- If you are engaged in contact sports or other close contact with people in a way that might introduce infection to the wound, make sure you shower and wash those areas that have been in contact with others.
- Don't share towels, razors or other implements that might transmit the bacteria to your skin.
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Avoid others with a known staph infection, and tell others if you have one.
- Wash and dry all clothing, towels and bed linens in hot water if they come in contact with staph bacteria.