Pro Football Players Face Danger of Serious Staph Infections

Roy was a high school student I went to school with here in St. Louis. Roy weighed about 180 lbs. and was in great shape. He ran track for the first couple of years and then decided that he would play football. He was a shining star on an otherwise mundane football team. He needed help with his grades so the coach quietly arranged to have a couple of “A” students tutor him, and word filtered through the teacher’s lounges to treat him gently when it came to grading. Although he had quite a temper and got into fights with students and teachers a couple of times, all of the coddlings must have worked because he was making a “C” average and tearing it up on the football field. It was just a matter of which college he was going to get the football scholarship to.

Then, in his senior year, disaster struck. He went in low to tackle one of his opponents on the other team and broke his neck. He ended up being paralyzed from the neck down, a prisoner in his own body. We didn’t hear much more about him after he got out of the hospital. We knew that he had come from a broken family like a lot of inner city students who are taking their future on being able to play professional sports. All we knew was that his girlfriend dropped out and Roy never came back to school.

Professional and school level athletes face the possibility of serious injury every day they play. If they’re lucky they’ll end their careers with only a few minor injuries if they’re unlucky they will end early because of some crippling injury that will affect them for the rest of their lives. And of course, the most devastating injuries are usually found in contact sports like football and boxing.

But now there’s a danger that affects any athlete that uses a locker room bench or shares a towel with another player or even has contact with someone on the field. It’s called MRSA or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a type of staph infection that is resistant to common antibiotics. The bacteria can be found in the throat and other parts of the body and lurks in cuts, abrasions, and boils. It is usually transmitted by skin-to-skin contact and through contaminated benches and towels in locker rooms. The infection can lead to serious complications like tissue necrosis, amputation, and even death because of septicemia. According to CNN, the problem came to the forefront of the news last week when Cleveland Browns player Kellen Winslow, who was suffering from his second infection, accused the team of covering up the problem.

After he spoke out the team suspended him for one game, but then rescinded the suspension over the weekend after reaching an agreement with Winslow. Other teams have also reported outbreaks. Right here in St. Louis, the Rams football team had eight MRSA infections during the 2003 season. Some researchers believe that the outbreak is even more widespread and that teams are reluctant to report it. There have also been reported outbreaks in schools and hospitals around the country. The infection can be extremely hard to treat because many of the most common antibiotics are ineffective in treating it.

The CDC, (Centers for Disease Control), recommends practicing good personal hygiene and taking care of your skin, which includes wearing protective clothing and covering any open sores with bandages. It also says that you shouldn’t share towels or razors with other people and cover all exercise equipment before using it.

Like many of the other emerging infections, prevention is going to have to be the way to control it until we can find effective treatments.