MRSA in sports

I am possibly the most sports-impaired person on the planet (a consequence of growing up with the lovely but impenetrable game of cricket), but even I noticed these stories recently.

  • University of North Carolina-Asheville basketball center Kenny George has lost part of his right foot to amputation as the result of a staph infection.
  • Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow has emotionally gone public — to the displeasure of his coaches — with the news that he was hospitalized for three days for a staph infection. Winslow has been struggling with MRSA since 2005, when he had a motorbike accident, had surgery, and developed a post-surgical infection. Four other Browns players — Braylon Edwards, Joe Jurevicius, LeCharles Bentley and Brian Russell — have had MRSA as well.

MRSA in sports is not new news, but the prominence of some of its victims has brought great attention to the bug: For instance, Redskins defensive tackle Brandon Noble, who was sidelined for a season, and eventually ended his career, over a MRSA infection following arthroscopic knee surgery. And it is not limited to pro players: Lycoming College senior Ricky Lanetti died in 2003 from an overwhelming MRSA infection that began as a pimple-like “spider bite” lesion.

There has been so much concern about MRSA among schools and parents that the CDC has issued specific advice for sports programs. Some of the reasons why athletes may be vulnerable are well-understood: They work in crowded conditions, they undergo a lot of skin-to-skin contact, they are likely to get scraped and injured, and they may not get clean immediately (especially high school players — does anyone shower after high school sports any more?).

But some factors, such as the role of artificial turf, are still murky. An investigation of eight MRSA infections among the St. Louis Rams in the 2003 season (first author Sophia Kazakova) found that linemen and linebackers were more likely to develop MRSA, possibly because they ended up with more turf abrasions. On the other hand, an investigation of 10 infections among players at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut (first author Elizabeth Begier) found that, while turf burns played a role, a contaminated team whirlpool — and sharing razors for shaving body hair — did too.


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