Special to the Tribune-Star
A lingering, and possibly lethal, opponent still lurks in the community: methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureaus or MRSA.
MRSA is a pathogen that has been around since the 1960s but largely confined to nosocomial (hospital-based) settings. Today MRSA accounts for more than 50 percent of the Staph aureaus isolates from intensive care units in this country.
Since 1982, MRSA has escaped from hospital confines to being a community-acquired MRSA (CA-MRSA). Individuals who contract CA-MRSA are often misdiagnosed with spider bites since many physicians are not familiar with CA-MRSA.
CA-MRSA is not confined to just contact sports. Child-care facilities, prisons, fitness centers as well as long-term care centers are at risk for MRSA.
CA-MRSA can cause skin, soft tissue, and bone infections as well as severe necrotizing pneumonia. A few deaths have been reported in sports due to “complications of a staph infection.”
When an infection is discovered, the medical community can treat it in two ways. Treating infections empirically is usually an educated guess and a prescription for an antibiotic. Empirical treatment is quick and usually effective. Empirical treatment is starting medical treatment before a diagnosis is confirmed.
The problem with empirically treating infections is that antibiotics are over prescribed and the isolates become resistant rendering many antibiotics ineffective. The result is the infections cannot be killed by once-standard antibiotics. That is a reason why drug companies are coming up with new and stronger antibiotics.
The other method of treatment is to culture an infection. Culturing an infection is the most accurate means for revealing an isolate. Once determined, the physician can accurately prescribe the appropriate antibiotic that is known to kill the infection.
Competitive contact sports teams are at greater risk for MRSA outbreaks. Athletes competing with open/uncovered infections easily spread MRSA to their teammates and opponents. Additionally, sharing towels, razors, and clothing may transmit infection and should be avoided. Many contact sports now require skin inspections prior to competition.
There are many high-tech sanitizing procedures popping up to cleanse sporting environments such as mats, fields and equipment. They are expensive and not yet proven effective.
Educating sports teams, the general public and medical community is vital to reducing the spread of MRSA.
Other means for squelching transmission is to avoid skin-to-skin contact with infected individuals. Additionally, daily hot showers with anti-bacterial soaps, frequent hand washing, use of sanitation gels, covering and daily cleansing and care of wounds are other methods to curb spread of infection.
Coaches and team managers should implement cleaning schedules for equipment including shared equipment, contaminated surfaces i.e. sports mats and weight equipment. Also, frequent laundering of contaminated clothing and linens can be helpful.
Like any other community-acquired infections, common sense and education goes a long way in slowing the invisible opponent.
Thank you to Dr. James Turner for his assistance with this article.
Chris Davies, MS, owns Fitness Solutions, Inc. He can be reached at Fitsolutions1@msn.com.