MRSA stands for Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. Staphylococcus Aureus (staph for short) is a common bacterium that lives on us, and can be carried from person to person. It also can live a long time on surfaces like weights, gym mats, towels, etc. Methicillin Resistant refers to the fact that this type of staph has evolved to be resistant to methicillin, an antibiotic that is used to treat infections with staph. When a bacterium is resistant to an antibiotic, it makes it that much harder to treat to make infections go away.
MRSA can cause a lot of different types of infections. Most common are skin infections which can be mild and treated with antibiotic creams or pills, but sometimes the infections can spread or invade below the skin and may require surgery or even amputation (no, I am not just saying this as a scare tactic). MRSA can also cause pneumonia, bone and joint infections or even infections of the heart valves.
- Skin to skin contact – so sports with more contact than others are a greater risk. We are talking wrestling, football, rugby, and the like. BUT athletes who play other sports with less contact, including basketball, rowing, field hockey, and other sports too also have picked up MRSA infections.
- MRSA lives on surfaces – so weights or gym mats or other equipment that is used by multiple athletes can spread MRSA from one person to the next.
- Athletes may opt not to shower right after practice – either because it isn’t cool, or because The Locker Room Culture does not support showering (made fun of, target for hazing or bullying, simply not the routine).
- Even if you all do get a shower, bars of soap and shared towels can spread MRSA.
- MRSA can get into the skin through small cuts and scrapes. I mean, who doesn’t get one of those from time to time when you are on the field or on the court or in the gym?
- Wash your hands early and often - especially after using weights or mats. Gel cleaners (with more than 60% alcohol) work too while you are in the gym.
- Wipe down equipment before and after you use it with alcohol wipes. And use a barrier like a towel of some sort when you use the equipment.
- Put dry clean bandages on scrapes and cuts.
- If your sport causes a lot of scrapes and scratches, wear clothes that can help prevent them – like arm sleeves or leggings.
- Shower right after practice. Don’t let bacteria sit on your skin longer than necessary.
- Don’t share bars of soap or towels – use liquid soap in gyms.
- Don’t share razors or shavers either.
- Wash your workout clothes or uniform right after practice. Wash your towels regularly too.
Basically, remember to:
- Clean the stuff you use.
- Clean the skin you’re in.
- And clean the clothes you wear.
- And do it all as soon as possible to kill the MRSA before it causes infections.
Do you think you have an infection?
Look out for cuts that get red around the edges, or scrapes that are red and oozing. Pus coming from any skin area is a warning sign too. If you have a spreading, red, hot tender patch of skin even without a cut or scrape, that can be a skin infection too. Don’t panic! Just get to your Doctor so they can prescribe antibiotics if necessary and check you out to make sure the infection doesn’t need more intensive treatment.