NASHVILLE, Oct. 9 (UPI) -- Collegiate athletes who play contact sports like football, basketball and soccer are more likely than their peers to carry the sometimes-deadly superbug methicillin-resistant Staphylocuccus aureus, more commonly known as MRSA or staph.
Approximately 5 to 10 percent of the general population carries MRSA -- usually in their nose and throats. According to researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, 8 to 31 percent of athletes in contact sports were harboring the MRSA bacterial strain at any given time over a two-year study. By comparison, non-contact athletes were found to be carrying the superbug between 0 and 23 percent of the time.
"This study shows that even outside of a full scale outbreak, when athletes are healthy and there are no infections, there are still a substantial number of them who are colonized with these potentially harmful bacteria," study author Dr. Natalia Jimenez-Truque, research instructor at Vanderbilt in the field of pediatric infectious diseases, said in a press release.
"Sports teams can decrease the spread of MRSA by encouraging good hygiene in their athletes, including frequent hand washing and avoiding sharing towels and personal items such as soap and razors," Jimenez-Truque added.
MRSA is the most common form of skin infection, and small cuts and injuries usually heal themselves on their own. The infection can often make its way deeper into the body, however, past the first lines of defense, causing pneumonia and infecting blood, heart, bone, joints and central nervous system. Because invasive MRSA is resistant to most standard antibiotics, it must treated intravenously with powerful alternatives. It's a technique that doesn't always work. MRSA kills some 18,000 people per year.
"Staph is a problematic germ for us -- always has been, always will be -- and we need to do all we can to reduce the risk of infection in those at highest risk, such as college athletes," Jimenez-Truque said.
To combat MRSA, researchers advise contact athletes to be extra diligent about cleaning and covering scrapes, cuts and other skin-exposing injuries like turf burn.