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Pro Football Players Pass Staph Infections

Staph Outbreak That Hit NFL Team Linked to Poor Hygiene On and Off the Field
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Feb. 2, 2005 -- Staph infections may pose a bigger risk to some professional football players than a tackle or quarterback sack, and the best defense may be better hygiene on the field and in the locker room.

New research shows a fall 2003 outbreak of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) skin infections among the St. Louis Rams were likely spread among players on as well as off the field through rough play and shared towels, whirlpools, and weights.

Researchers blame "turf burns" or areas of skin rendered raw by a run-in with artificial turf as both the source and means of spreading the fast-spreading bacteria that invade the body via cuts in the skin.

"These abrasions were usually left uncovered, and when combined with frequent skin-to-skin contact throughout the football season, probably constituted both the source and the vehicle for transmission," write researcher Sophia V. Kazakova, MD, MPH, PhD, of the CDC, and colleagues in the Feb. 3 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study also showed that linemen were 10 times more likely to develop the infection than a heavily guarded quarterback or other backfielder; the heavier the linebacker, the greater the risk.

Antibiotic-Resistant Infections On the Rise

The Rams asked the CDC for some defensive assistance and to investigate the outbreak in November 2003. By that time, a number of players had developed large skin abscesses caused by MRSA and additional infections were found in members of an opposing team, which suggested that the bacteria might be spread during play.

Methicillin is an antibiotic commonly used to treat staph infections. But the emergence of a growing number of staph strains that are resistant to treatment with this antibiotic is a major problem, as doctors have to consistently turn to more powerful antibiotics to treat them.

These types of antibiotic-resistant infections are commonly seen in health care settings, but the CDC says an increasing number of MRSA infections are being reported in people without links to hospitals, including football players.

In this case, researchers found that eight MRSA infections occurred during the 2003 football season among five of the 58 Rams players (9%). All of the infections occurred at the site of a turf burn and rapidly progressed to large abscesses 5 to 7 centimeters in diameter that required surgery to drain.

Most of the infections resolved within 10 days after the start of treatment, but three of the Rams players developed recurrent infections. Although none of the players required hospitalization, the affected players missed a total of 17 days due to their staph infection.

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