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The Threat of MRSA in Sports


NFL players know there is a possibility they can get hurt when they step on to the field. Giants player Daniel Fells learned there are dangers lurking in the locker room as well.

Fells is now battling a MRSA infection that may lead to the amputation of part of his foot, and most likely will end his football career. MRSA is a type of Staphylococcus, or Staph, that causes many types of infections. While his case is shocking, it isn't uncommon. "Staph infections are common when it comes to contact sports," says Sankar Swaminathan, MD, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases for University of Utah Health. "Players get small cuts or abrasions, and the bacteria can enter their systems."

MRSA infections are different from common staph infections due to their resistance to certain classes of antibiotics. "These strains are resistant to commonly used antibiotics of the penicillin class," says Swaminathan. "That makes them more difficult to treat."

Once in the body, MRSA can spread quickly and cause a myriad of problems. "These infections can cause skin and soft-tissue infections, bone infections, bloodstream and heart valve infections, abscesses — both superficial and deep — post-operative infections, and pneumonia," says Swaminathan.

Giants leaders say they are doing all they can to protect other players. Surfaces in the locker room are being wiped down and disinfected. However, that doesn't mean that the threat is totally eradicated. "Surfaces can be clean," says Swaminathan, "but the bacteria commonly colonize the skin and other sites on the body and then possibly infect a break in the skin."

Players also should keep their personal items to themselves. "Sharing towels, razors, and even soap will increase the risk of exposure," says Swaminathan. "They also should be sure to keep any cuts or scrapes clean and dry and seek medical attention at the first sign of infection."