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Health & Exercise Forum

Athletes at Risk of Infection from "Super Bug"

Mar 31, 2014

Dr. Mackarey's Health & Exercise ForumANNOUNCEMENT: Attention Health Care Professionals

The Commonwealth Medical College will host a one day symposium on infectious diseases on Saturday, April 5, 2014 from 8 am to 12 noon.

Location: TCMC 525 Pine Street, Scranton, PA

For more information contact: JoAnn Babish, 570-207-3686 or visit

Health & Exercise Forum will dedicate the next three weeks to columns related to infectious diseases to raise the level of awareness in NEPA.   

Athletes at Risk of Infection From Super Bug

“Superbugs” are drug-resistant bacteria affecting more than 90,000 Americans each year. However, it is important to recognize the fact that these infections do not only affect weak and hospitalized but also young, healthy athletes. In fact, there is a serious concern by medical professionals about the significant rise in cases of antibiotic resistant bacterial infections among the community at large including athletes. This dreaded bacterium is called Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA).

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Reports

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), reported cases throughout the country among high school, college and professional athletes. While more common in contact sports such as football and wrestling, other athletes in non-contact sports such as fencing, have been infected in large numbers.

The CDC reports that MRSA is spread in many different ways including contact associated with sports. The bacteria can be spread by direct contact with infected persons or indirect contact through shared towels, clothing or equipment. Normally benign cuts or scrapes can put an athlete at great risk.

The CDC does not feel that this is a temporary problem or fluke. The numbers continue to rise among athletes. In fact, every medical team in the National Football League was notified about MRSA by the CDC. The CDC feels that this trend is directly related to the growing use of antibiotics and an increase in resistance to them.

Local Impact of MRSA

According to Mark Frattali, MD, a local otolaryngologist, in addition to those with weak immune systems, he has seen a significant number of young healthy individuals such as construction workers and high school soccer and football players, who have contracted MRSA.

Symptoms of MRSA

  • Mild Infections of the Skin
  • Pimples or Boils
  • More Serious Infections of the Skin
  • Infected Surgical Wounds

Causes of MRSA

  • Staph bacteria commonly live on our bodies in the skin. It is the most common cause of skin infections in the country. 25-30% of the population has staph in their noses. Many healthy people carry this bacterium without even knowing it or having any symptoms.
  • Once staph enters the body through an open cut, scratch or abrasion, infection can spread to the bloodstream, lungs or urinary tract.
  • Over the past several decades, some strains of staph such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) have become resistant to antibiotics that worked previously. MRSA was first identified in 1961 and is presently resistant to methicillin, amoxicillin, penicillin, oxacillin and many other antibiotics.

How MRSA Spread

  • Contact – 1% of the population carries MRSA and are NOT infected
  • By touching the skin of someone who has MRSA
  • By touching equipment, clothing, razors, or other objects that are infected with MRSA
  • Weak Immune System/Communal Living
  • Those living in hospitals, nursing homes, and prisons
  • use of catheters or feeding tubes
  • recent surgical incision
  • Community-Associated MRSA (CA-MRSA)
  • Growing number of cases in young healthy people
  • Vulnerable groups living or working in close quarters such as:
    • Athletes, military recruits, and prisoners with an average age of 23.
    • Health care professionals increasing at a rate equaling athletes

Treatment for MRSA

While most MRSA infections are not fatal, some can be life-threatening. Also, health experts have great concern about the rapid spread of the stubborn and resistant bacterium. But, it is important to keep in mind that in the vast majority of cases, MRSA is treated with success. Some antibiotics can still work well and are often given intravenously at first and followed by oral medicine.

  • Bactrim and Vancomycin – are often used first.
  • Cleocin, Levaquin, Cubicin, Zyvox and Synercid – are also very effective.
  • Topical antibiotics can be an effective tool.
  • Incision & Drainage – to a localized boil.

Prevention of MRSA for the Athlete


The primary cause of the spread of MRSA is contact. Prevention involves avoiding and combating contact. The CDC state that MRSA is spread by: close skin-to-skin contact, cuts, abrasions, contaminated clothes and equipment, crowded living conditions, and poor hygiene

  • Good Hygiene:
    • Wash hands often for 10-15 seconds
    • Shower after practice and games
    • Use hot water, plentiful soap, thoroughly rinse and completely dry
    • Change towels and clothing after each use
  • Clean & Dry – sheets, clothes, towels. A hot dryer is better than air drying clothing to kill bacteria.
  • Clean Equipment
    • After each use clean and disinfect equipment, gym weights, bike handle bars, etc
    • Do Not Share Equipment
  • Do Not Share Towels/Clothing/Razors
  • Report Minor Cuts & Abrasions
    • that heal slowly or become sore, red & swollen
    • cover cuts
  • Avoid Chafed Skin
    • by using proper fitting clothing
    • using clothing that wicks away moisture
    • changing clothes immediately after activity
  • Educate Players, Coaches, Parents and Training Staff
    • use good hygiene
    • inform coaches, parents, medical staff about active skin infection
    • provide facilities and an environment that promotes good practices to prevent MRSA

SOURCES: Mark Fratalli, MD, WebMD, Centers for Disease Control:

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum” in the Scranton Times-Tribune. This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College.