Drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (staph) infections are a danger for athletes of all ages. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a type of bacterial infection resistant to common antibiotics, such as penicillin and cephalexin. These staph bacteria most often cause minor skin infections in young athletes. But if untreated, they may cause large boils (skin abscesses). Sometimes they may invade the bloodstream and become a life-threatening infection.
A MRSA infection is very contagious. It is easily spread through direct physical contact with an infected person. This is a concern for those who play contact sports.
In fact, MRSA infections are quite common in athletes. The bacteria can spread by skin-to-skin contact or through sharing athletic equipment or even towels. Poor hygiene, such as skipping hand-washing before and after sports, can also lead to MRSA. Injuries may allow the bacteria to enter the skin. The MRSA bacteria can creep into the body through any open cut or wound. This causes an infection.
If you are an athlete with a cut or scrape, you can get MRSA by:
Having skin-to-skin contact with a person who has a MRSA infection
Sharing equipment or personal items, such as towels, with someone who has MRSA
Touching any surface, from workout equipment to shared soap or ointment, that's contaminated with MRSA
These are symptoms of a MRSA skin infection:
Bump that is painful, red, or swollen. It may be leaking pus. It may look like a spider bite, pimple, or boil.
Bumps under the skin that are swollen or hard to the touch
Skin around a sore that is warm or hot to the touch
Bump that grows quickly
Bump that does not heal
Painful sore with a fever
Rash or pus-filled blisters
Draining boil or abscess
MRSA infections often start at a place where the skin is already visibly broken, such as with a cut or sore. They may also happen in places that are usually covered by hair.
If you have these symptoms, see a healthcare provider right away. Then you can get treatment right away and avoid complications. A more serious MRSA infection needs emergency treatment. Signs of such an infection are:
Shortness of breath
Here are tips to help athletes reduce the risk of getting a MRSA infection:
Carefully wash and bandage any scrapes, cuts, wounds, or injuries.
Don't share razors, towels, or athletic equipment.
Wash hands often—always before and after playing sports, working out, or using athletic equipment.
Use liquid soap rather than bar soap when washing hands so you don't share soap and spread germs.
Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are not on hand.
Always shower after sports practice or training.
Never share any shower equipment or toiletries.
Always fully wash and dry uniforms or practice clothing after each use.
Protect skin with a barrier, such as a towel, when using a sauna or weightlifting equipment where the skin may come into contact with bacteria.
Wear protective gear or equipment to help reduce the chance of cuts, friction, or other injuries while playing sports.
Proper wound care can help prevent the spread of MRSA in athletes. Along with swift care and treatment, athletes should take care to keep all cuts, scrapes, and abrasions fully covered with a bandage. Wash the wound well and put on a fresh bandage often throughout the day. Make sure that the wound cannot touch other people or equipment.
Your healthcare provider will talk with you about your treatment choices. These may include:
Draining any abscess or fluid-filled sore
Sending infected fluid to a lab for a culture to determine the bacteria
Having a nasal disinfection with an antibacterial ointment called mupirocin and body washing with diluted bleach in water or the antibacterial soap chlorhexidine. These steps may be taken to remove the MRSA bacteria from your body.
Disinfecting your personal items and environment so that you don't pick up the germ again after getting rid of it from your own body