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Athletes and Coaches Should Note Risks of Open Cuts, Researchers Say

Nov. 12, 2004 -- Chances are, skin infection probably doesn't spring to mind when you consider football's hazards. With massive players and bone-crunching plays, you might think turf burns or shaving scrapes are no big deal.

Not so, says Elizabeth Begier of Connecticut's Department of Public Health. Those tiny wounds can let in bacteria, according to Begier and colleagues.

Begier's team investigated a skin infection outbreak on an unnamed Connecticut college football team in 2003. The spread of this outbreak stemmed from a drug-resistant bacteria called methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

The bug is resistant to methicillin, an antibiotic frequently used to treat staph infections -- and to the entire class of drugs it represents.

Of 100 players, 10 were infected with the resistant bacteria and two were hospitalized, according to the findings of the study published in the Nov. 15 issue of the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

The athletes may have been infected through skin burns from artificial turf or from nicks and scrapes from body shaving. Staph aureus bacteria are commonly found on the skin. They can form boils or simple skin infections. Skin cuts or scrapes can help bacteria enter the body.

But when these bacteria become resistant to antibiotics they can spread and cause pneumonia, bone infections, or life-threatening infections of the bloodstream that are difficult to treat.

Of the 100 players studied, those with turf burns had an infection risk seven times higher than their scraped teammates. The team's 25 body-shaving players, who shaved at least one body area besides the face, were six times more likely to get MRSA infections.

The players may not have noticed the cuts but they were an open door for MRSA.

Cornerbacks and wide receivers, who frequently come into contact with other players, accounted for most cases. Improperly treated whirlpools could also have helped spread the bacteria.

"Players who reported sharing the cold whirlpool in the training room with another athlete were two times as likely to have an MRSA infection," write the researchers.

The researchers write that "because of the increasing reports of virulent community-acquired MRSA infection nationwide, athletes and coaching staff should note the special risks associated with athletes, and common sense prevention guidelines should be implemented."

To avoid outbreaks, Begier and colleagues recommend covering wounds and teaching athletes about the risks of body shaving. Disinfecting public pools and whirlpools, installing antibacterial soap dispensers in locker room showers, and washing towels in hot water could also help, they say.

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