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While MRSA infections were previously thought to only be an infection causing concern in hospitals, where many of the patients have weakened immune systems, new studies are showing that MRSA infections are spreading into the general community more and more frequently. Studies have shown that healthcare workers can take the virus home with them when they leave the hospital. Other more recent preliminary studies have revealed that college athletes who play contact sports are also more susceptible to catching and passing on the virus. In fact, according to a recent study conducted by researchers from the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, college athletes that play contact sports (like football, soccer, and wrestling) were found to be more than twice as likely as other college students to be carriers of the superbug commonly referred to as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).
MRSA is a type of infection that is caused by a strain of staph bacteria that has become resistant to the antibiotics that are usually used to treat staph infections, making MRSA treatments more complicated in recent years. While some MRSA infections will go away on their own, others can be much more life-threatening. According to officials, around 18,000 people die as a result of invasive MRSA infections each year in the United States.
In order to conduct their study researchers from the VanderbiltUniversityMedicalCenter in Nashville spent two years following 377 male and female athletes who played 14 different sports. After collecting and analyzing monthly nasal and throat swabs, researchers determined that up to 31% of those that played contact sports were MRSA carriers, as opposed to only 23% of those that played non-contact sports like golf and cross-country.
Unlike those with weakened immune systems who get infected in hospital settings, the athletes who took part in this study were healthy and had no infections, yet they still ended up being carriers for this dangerous bacteria. Like study co-author Natalia Jimenez-Truque (a research instructor with VanderbiltUniversityMedicalCenter in Nashville) said, “this study shows that even outside of a full-scale outbreak, when athletes are healthy and there are no infections, there are still a substantial number of them who are colonized with these potentially harmful bacteria.”
Experts like Jimenez-Truque, as well as those from the Mayo Clinic, advocate that the best way for sports teams to prevent and reduce the spread of MRSA is to practice good hygiene.
Tips for Reducing the Spread of MRSA Among Athletes:
-- Be diligent about practicing good hand-washing techniques, washing the hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds and using an instant hand sanitizer with at least 62% alcohol when there isn’t easy access to soap and clean water.
-- Although our parents teach us that sharing is a good thing, when it comes to preventing the spread of MRSA sharing is a big no-no. Don’t share towels, sheets, athletic clothing and equipment, or other personal items like soap, deodorant, toothbrushes and razors. MRSA can spread through contact with contaminated objects, as well as through direct contact.
-- Shower as soon as you can after all athletic events, including practices! Use soap and warm water to wash away those germs and bacteria…and remember to not share towels or bars of soap.
-- Make sanitizing and disinfecting all equipment a part of the teams daily routine. Use disinfectant solutions or germicidal wipes to clean the equipment, including shared baseball bats, helmets, balls, wrestling mats and locker-room areas.
-- Clean and sanitize all linens using hot water and detergents (detergents containing bleach are the most effective) and then dry them on the hottest settings that the clothing material can withstand. Wash any and all athletic clothing each time they are worn. If you get a cut or sore, wash all towels and bed sheets each time they are used. You might have more laundry to do, but it will be worth it to avoid getting a MRSA infection!