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Staph Infections Pervasive in Professional Sports

When “Ultimate Fighter” James Krause first got a cut on his leg, he didn’t think much of it. After all, he’s a professional fighter, trained in mixed martial arts (MMA), Jui Jitsu, and cage fighting. When that cut didn’t heal, Krause headed for the hospital, where he learned that he had contracted a “nastyStaphylococcus aureus (staph) infection while filming a television reality show called “The Ultimate Fighter.”

He spent nearly two weeks in the hospital and had three surgeries to clean out the infection. “Third time in 10 years having staph and the earliest I’ve caught it,” he posted on Instagram along with a photo of his stitched-up incision, which was nearly a foot long. Krause is just the latest professional fighter to contract such an infection and post all the gory details on social media. For example, Kenny Florian (MMA) was pulled out of his fighting season early in 2010 to deal with an extremely swollen knee as a result of a staph infection; Jason “Mayhem” Miller blamed a 2009 MMA bout for a lesion on his neck that developed its own viral personality on MMA forum boards; the show, “The Ultimate Fighter,” has its own staph-related medical history with an undisclosed number of participants contracting infections during the show’s filming of various seasons.

When a professional athlete contracts a staph infection, it tends to make headlines, and not just because of the athlete’s fan base. S. aureus is considered by global healthcare leaders like Merck to be the “most dangerous of all the many common staphylococcal bacteria,” thanks to its tendency to be antibiotic-resistant, and the fact that it may spread easily if an individual is unaware that he or she is infected. In fact, some strains of S. aureus are resistant to so many antibiotics that they are nearly untreatable and must be surgically removed from the body to limit the spread of infection. This type of staph, called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), may be acquired in the general community or during a visit to a healthcare facility.

Gymnasiums, locker rooms, and other high-traffic areas where large volumes of bodily fluids like sweat and blood may be left behind by numerous people are prime growing grounds for S. aureus. Bacteria may spread via direct contact with an infected individual, through the use of contaminated objects like free weights, or by otherwise bringing infected fluids from the carrier into the body.

“Staph is the cockroach of bacteria,” observed Jeanine Thomas, founder and president of MRSA Survivors Network, to Contagion®. “We keep throwing antibiotics and treatments at it, and it just keeps finding a way to spread and survive. We don’t really even know how many community [MRSA] infections there are.” Furthermore, Thomas noted, many people with staph and even MRSA infections are asymptomatic. “Somewhere between 2% and 10% of the US population is actually colonized with MRSA,” she said. “All you need is a micro-cut, and staph or MRSA can go invasive even if you did not have any symptoms before... You can spread the infection without ever having symptoms.”

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