February 2, 2009 / 7:59 PM / 11 years ago

Superbug MRSA likes the high school gridiron: CDC

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Outbreaks of skin and soft tissue infections caused by the superbug MRSA — short for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus — continue to be a problem, especially among high school football teams, warn health officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Once largely seen only in hospitals, MRSA outbreaks have occurred in recent years in community settings. MRSA, which is resistant to most antibiotics, is responsible for an increasing number of skin infections among young children, prison inmates, military recruits and high school, college and professional football teams — people who are in close contact and may share contaminated items.

In the CDC’s weekly bulletin, health officials describe a 2007 investigation of an outbreak of MRSA infections among players on a high school football team in Brooklyn, New York.

The outbreak occurred during preseason football training camp where all 59 players on the team lived together in the school gymnasium. There were 4 confirmed and 2 suspected cases of MRSA among the 51 players interviewed — an infection rate of nearly 12 percent.

The results of the investigation into the outbreak suggest that football training camps provide a setting where multiple risk factors converge to increase the likelihood of MRSA outbreaks.

These risk factors include sharing towels, soap and other personal items, and inadequate care of skin wounds among players. Crowded living conditions also appeared to be a risk factor.

The investigators found that the players’ body mass index (BMI) — the ratio of weight to height commonly used to assess obesity — correlated with an increased risk of MRSA infection. The 6 infected subjects had a significantly higher BMI than the 45 players who were not infected, and 5 of the 6 infected players were classified as overweight or obese.

Evidence from this outbreak, as well as a similar outbreak in 2004 among 10 players on a Connecticut college football team, suggests that body shaving and “turf burns” also seem to raise football players’ risk of contracting MRSA.

There are several measures that can be taken to prevent MRSA skin infections in sports participants, CDC officials note, such as designing processes and facilities to enable and promote optimal player hygiene, and better educating coaching staff, and especially players, on recognizing potential infections and what to do about them.

Community-acquired MRSA infection typically causes abscesses or areas of inflammation on the skin, though in some cases it can also lead to more serious problems such as pneumonia and blood infection.

SOURCE: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, January 30, 2009.

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