Preventing MRSA in Athletes
Drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (staph) infections are a hazard for athletes of all ages. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, commonly known as MRSA, is a type of bacterial infection resistant to common antibiotics
such as penicillin. These staph bacteria most often cause minor skin infections in
young athletes, but if untreated, it may invade the bloodstream and become a life-threatening
Millions of people see their doctor for MRSA skin infections every year. The infection
is highly contagious and easily spread through direct physical contact with an infected
person, making this a concern for those who play sports.
In fact, MRSA infections are quite common in athletes because the bacteria can spread
via skin-to-skin contact or through sharing athletic equipment or even towels. Poor
hygiene, such as skipping hand-washing before and after sports, can also contribute
to MRSA, as can injuries that allow the bacteria to enter the skin. The MRSA bacteria
can creep into the body through any open cut or wound, causing an infection.
How is MRSA spread?
If you are an athlete with a cut or scrape, you can get MRSA through:
Skin-to-skin contact with a person with a MRSA infection
Sharing equipment or personal items such as towels with someone who has MRSA
Touching any surface, from workout equipment to shared soap or ointment, that's contaminated
What are the symptoms of MRSA?
These are symptoms of a MRSA skin infection:
Bump that is painful, red, leaking pus, and/or swollen. (This may resemble a spider
bite, pimple, or boil.)
Bumps under the skin that are swollen or hard to the touch
Skin around a sore that is warm or hot to the touch
Bump that grows rapidly and/or does not heal
Painful sore accompanied by a fever
Rash or pus-filled blisters
Draining boil or abscess
MRSA infections often start at a location where the skin is already visibly broken,
such as with a cut or sore. They may also occur in places that are usually covered
It's important to have these symptoms evaluated by a health care provider so that
you can receive prompt treatment and avoid complications. Fever, chills, body aches,
a rash, or shortness of breath could also be signs of a systemic MRSA infection that
requires emergency treatment.
Can MRSA be prevented?
Here are tips to help athletes reduce the risk of contracting a MRSA infection:
Carefully wash and bandage any scrapes, cuts, wounds, or injuries.
Don't share razors, towels, or athletic equipment.
Wash hands frequently -- always before and after playing sports, working out, or using
Use liquid soap rather than bar soap when washing hands to avoid sharing soap and
Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
Always shower after sports practice or training.
Never share any shower equipment or toiletries.
Always thoroughly wash and dry uniforms or practice clothing after each use.
Protect skin with a barrier, such as a towel, when using a sauna or weightlifting
equipment where the skin may come into contact with bacteria.
Wear protective gear or equipment to help reduce the chance of cuts, friction, or
other injuries while playing sports.
How should I care for wounds?
Proper wound care can help prevent the spread of MRSA in athletes. In addition to
prompt medical care and treatment, athletes should take care to keep all cuts, scrapes,
and abrasions completely covered with a bandage. Thoroughly wash the wound and apply
a fresh bandage frequently throughout the day. Make sure that the wound cannot come
into contact with other people or equipment.
How is MRSA treated?
Your health care provider will discuss treatment options with you. These may include:
Drainage of any abscess or fluid-filled sore
Sending infected fluid to a lab for a culture to determine the bacteria
Nasal swabbing with mupirocin (an antibacterial ointment) and body washing with diluted
bleach in water or chlorhexidine (an antibacterial soap). These steps may be taken
to remove colonization of MRSA bacteria from your body.