MRSA invades athletic arena

Much has been written about serious, and sometimes deadly, infections caused by so-called “super bugs.” Recently, this discussion has moved to the sports pages.

Tom Brady’s post-surgical knee infection will undoubtedly prolong his rehabilitation and emphasizes how infections can impact sports. Several NFL players have come forward to report how their careers have been shortened by persistent infections.

Staphylococcus aureus is a common bacterial organism found on skin. It is responsible for pimples and boils. Unfortunately, several factors have caused these bacteria to become a serious health problem.

Over time, “staph” has become resistant to many antibiotics. This is a result of antibiotics being overused when not required and the common use of antibiotics in animal feeds.

This common use has triggered the adaptive properties of bacteria to become resistant. MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is the most prevalent of these bacteria that have become resistant to many antibiotics.

Another factor in this problem is the nature of sports. Athletes are susceptible to open wounds that easily become infected and close contact during play allows for the direct spread of offending organisms. Towels and razors are often shared, providing additional vehicles for spread. Locker rooms are typically humid and damp, creating a perfect environment for bacterial growth.

“MRSA is not a problem in countries that have restricted the use of antibiotics,” said Richard Quintiliani, MD, a world-renowned infectious disease specialist who recently spoke at Backus Hospital on the topic of MRSA. He believes that people should not require antibiotics more than four times in their lifetimes.

Some tips for stopping the spread of infection in athletes:
• Wash hands frequently and thoroughly.
• Do not share personal items such as towels, razors and unwashed clothing.
• Cover all wounds with a clean bandage.
• Clean any shared sporting equipment with antiseptic solution.
• Avoid common whirlpools.

Paying attention to some basic rules of good hygiene should keep athletes in the
game and not on the sideline.

Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is Chief of Neurology at The William W. Backus Hospital and in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC in Norwich. To contact Dr. Alessi, email him To comment on his blog, listen to his podcasts or purchase his recently published “Healthy Sports: A Doctor’s Lessons for a Winning Lifestyle” book, log on to

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