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MRSA and Young Athletes: Prevention

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 first-line antibiotics such as penicillin. These staph bacteria most often cause minor skin infections in young athletes, but if untreated, the bacteria may invade the bloodstream and become a life-threatening infection.

More than 6 million people see their doctor for MRSA skin infections every year. The infection is highly contagious and easily transmitted through close physical contact, making this a concern for those who play sports.

Young football team in huddle

In fact, MRSA infections are quite common in young 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 in young athletes, 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.

Transmission

If you are a young 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 with MRSA

Symptoms

These are symptoms of a MRSA skin infection:

  • Redness

  • Tenderness or pain

  • Swelling

  • Heat or warmth

  • Pus or other drainage from a wound

It's important to have these symptoms evaluated by a health care provider so that the youngster 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.

Preventing MRSA

Here are tips to help young 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 athletic equipment.

  • Use liquid soap rather than bar soap when washing hands to avoid sharing soap and spreading germs.

  • Use a hand sanitizer that is at least a 60 percent alcohol when soap and water are not available.

  • Always shower after sports practice or training and 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.

Caring for wounds

Proper wound care can help prevent the spread of MRSA in young athletes. In addition to prompt medical care and treatment, young 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. 

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