Joe Jurevicius, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Kellen Winslow. Unfortunately, during the past few months the list of top professional football players affected by Staphylococcus Aureus, commonly called staph, seems to read as a who’s who of the National Football League (NFL). Whether the source of these infections is healthcare facilities where athletes are undergoing surgeries, locker rooms, or turf on the playing fields, staph and its close relative Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus or MRSA, have reared their ugly heads in the NFL again.
Although not a new trend, it is an alarming one as more and more athletes miss multiple games due to these infections. As the number of cases of MRSA, a type of staph infection that is resistant to many common antibiotics, has increased in the community versus hospital settings, so have contact sports-related infections. This is mostly due to how the infection is spread.
Staph and MRSA are usually spread from person-to-person through direct skin contact or contact with shared items or surfaces such as towels, used bandages, hot and cold tubs, or weight-training equipment surfaces that have touched a person’s infection. MRSA infections in the community are usually manifested as skin infections, such as pimples and boils that are red, swollen and painful. MRSA can be life threatening when it enters the body through scrapes and scratches, potentially leading to blood and joint infections, and pneumonia. In hospital-acquired MRSA, the infection usually enters the body during a surgery or other open-wound procedure.
“All of us in the sports medicine profession know that protecting our players from infections such as staph or MRSA are priorities,” said Dean Kleinschmidt, coordinator of athletic medicine/athletic trainer for the Detroit Lions. “To do this, many of us have started very strict facility cleaning procedures and provided our players with educational materials and workshops that show them how they can also prevent it.”
The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) recently posted information to its web site about staph infections and MRSA provided by NFLPA Medical Director Dr. Thom Mayer. This includes how players can lower their chances of contracting staph such as:
— Players need to have effective hygiene with equipment, which means wiping down a training bench or table.
— Make sure the trainer uses a germicidal foam and wipes down the table between players.
— Showering following whirlpool treatments.
— The single most important thing for prevention is hand-washing with soap and water, or if MRSA is known to be present, with chlorhexidene (Hibiclens).
In addition to several other measures aimed at reducing the risk of infection, cleansers with chlorhexidene gluconate (CHG) have been recommended by medical organizations to be used prior to surgeries as a bathing agent, specifically 4 percent CHG since it is more effective than iodine or plain soap. The Centers for Disease Control also recommends that hospitals require patients to shower or bathe with an antiseptic agent at least the night before the operative day.
“Cleansers with 4 percent CHG cleanse the skin, but also add a barrier for hours of protection,” said Jack Doornbos, executive director, Molnlycke Health Care, maker of Hibiclens(R) skin cleanser. “CHG has been used in hospitals and operating rooms for decades to prevent the spread of infection. But now, with MRSA and other resistant infections becoming more common in the community and sports, it’s been even more important to add protection, while not leaving a residue that affects sports performance.”
Infection risk can be even higher among amateur and recreation-level athletes. This is due to the fact that many athletes at an amateur level don’t shower immediately after activities. For them, washing with a CHG product such as Hibiclens, especially the hands and arms, before an activity can dramatically reduce the risk of infection.