Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections were once a worry only for people in hospitals. But in recent years, there have been more and more reports of MRSA being transmitted in the community. S. aureus, or staph, is a common bacterium, and many healthy people carry it around without ever knowing about it. It can cause skin infections, though, and MRSA is resistant to many of the antibiotics commonly used to treat staph infections. Researchers report an MRSA outbreak in a Connecticut college football team in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.
What the researchers wanted to know: How did MRSA spread among these college football players?
What they did: After several MRSA skin infections were reported to the Connecticut Department of Health among the players on a college football team, the university's health center took samples from the noses of the players, trainers, and coaches to find out if anyone was carrying MRSA there (no one was, although many had normal staph bacteria). They also took groin and armpit samples from patients with infections. The players, trainers, and coaches were interviewed in person to find out about skin injuries, whether they shared towels, and other ways that the bacteria could have spread. The researchers compared the 10 players who had MRSA skin infections with the 90 who didn't.
What they found: Players who'd had turf burns were seven times more likely to get an MRSA infection. Players who shaved part of their body were six times more likely to develop MRSA infections; the risk was even higher for those who shaved their genitals or groin. Cornerbacks and wide receivers were the most likely to be infected; the researchers say the bacteria were probably spread by frequent body contact between those players in drills and scrimmages. Then the bacteria would have been ready to infect the skin after any turf burns or razor nicks. The players who shaved were doing it for looks, not for the game.
What the study means to you: An MRSA infection usually isn't a serious problem for an otherwise healthy person. But an unhealthy person who contracts an MRSA infection and is unable to fight it off could be in danger, because regular antibiotics won't work on it. That's why public health officials get excited about MRSA outbreaksno one wants these bacteria to become common. In this case, two of the men were hospitalized with cellulitis, an infection of the connective tissue under the skin; one had to get IV vancomycin for three weeks, and the other for two weeks.
Caveats: The researchers say using the whirlpools in the locker room might also have increased infection risk, because they weren't properly disinfected. Unfortunately, they didn't have enough detail about players' use of the whirlpools to figure out just how that related to their risk.
Find out more: Information about methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Read the article: Begier, E.M., et al. "A High-Morbidity Outbreak of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Among Players on a College Football Team, Facilitated by Cosmetic Body Shaving and Turf Burns." Clinical Infectious Diseases. Nov. 15, 2004, Vol. 39, pp. 14461453.
Abstract online: http://www.journals.uchicago.edu