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The Never-Ending Battle Against Sport’s Hidden Foe

MRSA, the acronym for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, was once mostly found in hospitals, clinics and other healthcare settings. About 20 years ago, it began afflicting athletes in contact sports. In the N.F.L., the effort to curb MRSA now borders on a crusade, with an official prevention manual that is 315 pages long.  One study of high school football players concluded that sharing a towel makes the chance of a MRSA infection eight times more likely.

MRSA and STAPH are Everywhere

At Bowdoin College in Maine, Dan Davies, the athletic trainer, said the college had not had a MRSA case involving an athlete in the 10 years since it bought an ozone gas unit. That track record has motivated Bowdoin officials to consider installing a system that would fill the locker rooms and the training room inside the college’s new facility with ozone gas transmitted through the heating and air-conditioning ducts.

Overnight, custodians would lock the doors to the building serving Bowdoin’s football and lacrosse teams, then turn on the ozone gas. The facility is to open next year, and while the new system could add to the renovation cost, Bowdoin, like so many other institutions, may decide it is worth the price. The college once had a MRSA scar

About 10 years ago, a Bowdoin athlete was unaware he had contracted MRSA, and with a contagious, open wound on his leg, he wandered around the campus — to the dining hall, the weight room, the locker room and the coaches’ offices.

“That gets your attention,” Davies said. “We said, ‘Oh, boy, we’ve got to sit down and make a game plan to fix this.’ We took the stance that we’ve got to push prevention to the forefront. And we haven’t turned back.”

Why MRSA is Spread Among Athletes

MRSA might spread easily among athletes because they:

  • Have repeated skin-to-skin contact.
  • Get breaks in the skin such as cuts and abrasions that, if left uncovered, allow MRSA to enter and cause infection.
  • Share items and surfaces that come into direct skin contact.
  • Are sometimes not able to shower or wash hands after exercise or after using shared equipment.
  • Covering infections will greatly reduce the risks of surfaces becoming contaminated with MRSA.


 Athletes Most At Risk

  • Skin infections including MRSA are most commonly reported among athletes in sports with a lot of physical contact.  This includes wrestling, football and rugby. However, MRSA infections have been reported among athletes in other sports such as soccer, basketball, field hockey, volleyball, rowing, martial arts, fencing, and baseball.
  • Even though some sports involve only small amounts of physical contact, MRSA spread might take place before or after participation, such as in the locker room. Therefore, anyone participating in organized or recreational sports should be aware of the signs of possible skin infections and follow prevention measures.


You can read more about MRSA in this informative article from the NY Times HERE


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