When MRSA affects professional sports teams, this four-letter word makes national headlines. The truth is, there are occasional outbreaks in high school locker rooms and sports teams across the country. Here’s how you can stay healthy and prevent infection.

What is MRSA?
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (staph) is a type of bacteria that is resistant to certain antibiotics. Staph are common bacteria that normally live on the skin. The bacteria also live harmlessly in the nasal passages of roughly 30 percent of the U.S. population. If you have staph on your skin or in your nose, but aren’t sick, you are said to be “colonized” but not infected. Healthy people can be colonized with MRSA and have no ill effects, but they can pass the germ to others.

Recent reports have shown that MRSA infections associated with hospitalizations are declining – and that’s a good thing. But there have been smaller declines among MRSA infections that are acquired in the community, in places like schools and sports teams.

MRSA generally starts as small red bumps that resemble pimples, boils, or spider bites. They can quickly turn into deep, painful abscesses that require surgical draining. Fever and warmth around the infected area are also present.

Symptoms of a more serious staph infection may include: rash, shortness of breath, chills, chest pain, fatigue, muscle aches, and headache. The bacteria can get into the bloodstream, bones, joints, muscles, and lungs. Organ failure and death may result from untreated infections.

MRSA is mainly spread by touching something that is contaminated with the germ, such as contact with people who are already infected, touching surfaces that have been contaminated by body fluids carrying bacteria, or touching infected body sites. Crowds and poor hygiene have also been cited as infection routes.

How to reduce your risk of MRSA and keep your family healthy

  1. Practice Proper Hand Hygiene:  The best prevention is simply washing your hands for 20 seconds (sing the happy birthday song twice) or using hand sanitizer containing a minimum of 60% alcohol the right way – rub until your hands are dry. (Listen to the CDC’s “Happy Handwashing Song” for kids, sung to the tune of “Happy Birthday”)
  2. Be Aware of What You Share:  Forget what your mother told you about sharing. Towels, razors, equipment, sports gear and heavily trafficked environments (like gyms, classrooms, etc.) are potential bacteria breeding grounds.
  3. Spare the Antibiotics:  Superbugs are a man-made problem, thanks in large part to the improper use of antibiotics. Don’t press your doctor to prescribe unnecessary antibiotics. Taking antibiotics when they are not necessary can cause harmful superbugs to grow.
  4. Shower power:  Make sure to shower with soap after sports practices. Dry off with a clean towel and change into clean clothes. Be sure that your locker room uses soap dispensers and not bar soap where germs could be spread.
  5. Cover your cuts: Pay attention to your skin. If you have a cut or scrape, clean it off with warm water and soap, and cover with a bandage until it heals. Keep it clean and dry, and if the area gets red, hot, or swollen, be sure to see your healthcare professional as it could be a sign that the area is infected. Don’t touch other people’s wounds or bandages.
  6. Wash it on hot:  If you have a cut/sore, wash towels and bed linens in hot water with added bleach.  Wash gym and athletic clothes after each wearing.
  7. Arm yourself: Carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer for times when you  don’t have access to soap and water.

Who is at risk for MRSA?

  • Children may be susceptible because their immune systems aren’t fully developed or they don’t yet have antibodies to common germs. Read more about MRSA in early childhood care centers. 
  • People who play contact sports like football, rugby, and wrestling.  The bacteria spreads easily through cuts and abrasions and skin-to-skin contact. Sharing items like towels, athletic equipment, razors, and uniforms can allow MRSA to spread among athletes.
  • Living in crowded or unsanitary conditions. MRSA has occurred in military training camps, prisons, public housing, daycare facilities, locker rooms, and schools.
  • Intravenous drug use and tattooing is another risk factor for MRSA.

Learn more about MRSA from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.