Recent MRSA diagnoses in NFL expose elevated risk of infection in locker rooms, gyms
October 23, 2013
A rash of MRSA infections within the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ roster is raising concerns about whether enough is being done to contain the spread of dangerous pathogens that can linger and thrive in NFL locker rooms and gym facilities.
Earlier this month, cornerback Johnthan Banks became the third Buccaneers player this year to be diagnosed with MRSA. Prior to that, teammates Lawrence Tynes and Carl Nicks contracted MRSA in August at a Buccaneers training camp.
Nicks has had an especially difficult road to recovery. After being forced to miss the first two games of the season to recover, he recently discovered that his infection had resurfaced. He is currently sidelined again after undergoing surgery to remove infected tissue.
Though there has been a spike in the news related to MRSA infections in the NFL lately, this is by no means an isolated incident. Over the past decade, many NFL teams have struggled to manage costly MRSA staph infections within their ranks, including the St. Louis Rams, Washington Redskins, San Francisco 49ers, and a particularly nasty episode with the Cleveland Browns that lead to career-ending injuries and hefty lawsuits waged against the Browns.
What is MRSA?
MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is an extremely contagious and difficult-to-treat form of staph bacteria that can have devastating consequences for those who contract it, ranging from widespread infection to flesh-eating pneumonia, organ failure, and even death. It is often classified as a “superbug” because of its strong resistance to many traditional antibiotic treatments, making containment of MRSA outbreaks far more difficult.
As if resistance to antibiotics weren’t enough, traditional disinfection techniques are also becoming increasingly ineffective in the face of modern microbial threats like MRSA. In fact, liquid disinfectants can actually help MRSA and other superbugs build resistance.
MRSA is often spread by skin-to-skin contact or by using shared equipment/gear that has been contaminated. This, combined with the fact that locker rooms and gyms are usually moist, warm environments that foster bacterial growth in an area where people are in close physical proximity, can cause workout facilities to become a hotbed for infection.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt Medical Center, sums it up: “Weight rooms, the close interpersonal contact, plus the interruption of skin surfaces like cuts and bruises — they provide an opening niche, and once there, the staph can go to town. Even with big football players, the staph will win.”
Paving the road to recovery
After the announcement of the Buccaneers’ latest MRSA infection, NFL Players’ Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith spoke out and urged the NFL to be proactive and aggressively tackle this issue. “This underscores the need for a leaguewide, comprehensive and standardized infectious disease protocol,” Smith noted. “It also calls for improved accountability measures on health and safety issues by the NFL over the clubs.”
The NFL Players’ Association should be commended for bringing this issue into the spotlight. A strong response to the mounting threat posed by resistant bacteria is long overdue, both in the NFL and in athletics programs as a whole.
In order to begin turning the tide against superbugs and prevent dangerous infections from spreading in athletic programs, one must first recognize that current sanitation protocols with an overreliance on liquid disinfectants are falling short and, in some instances, are making the problem worse. Advanced disinfection techniques, such as UV light sanitation, can help eliminate deadly bacteria and pathogens far more effectively, especially when it comes to superbugs. After all, no germ is resistant to the germicidal effects of UV light.
To learn more about how HealthGuard is leading the fight to contain infection in athletic facilities, take a look at the HGUVC Athletics disinfection system.