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Staph Infections Pervasive in Professional Sports

As Krause’s familiarity with staph indicates, S. aureus infections are no stranger to professional sports locker rooms. In 2008, star quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning both contracted staph infections. At the time, Brady, who is notoriously secretive about all health conditions, underwent what Time described as “at least two additional infection-related procedures,” after ending his season early in September of that year, allegedly to deal with a knee injury. The National Football League (NFL) received a great deal of criticism at the time when Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. revealed that not only did he have a staph infection, but that allegedly the Browns had asked him to “cover it up” publicly, which is not uncommon for professional sports teams that do not want the competition to know when their stars are out sick. Six other Browns players reportedly had staph between 2005 and 2008. The Browns denied Winslow’s accusations and suspended him for a game.

Staph infections are probably most prevalent in “locker-room sports,” like football and wrestling, but they can be acquired just about anywhere. Professional skateboarder Nick Mullins contracted a staph infection, his family believes, when, in 2009, he got what his father called a “bad scrape” on his hip from a skateboarding accident; the cut eventually became infected. Mullins was not immediately diagnosed with staph or MRSA and ended up in septic shock before the diagnosis was made. He eventually lost all vision, suffered acute kidney injury (AKI), and sustained a great deal of lung damage, but did survive. Mullins made headlines during his months-long illness and during his recovery, when he eventually insisted on returning to skateboarding despite being legally blind. Mullins’ doctor noted that MRSA does not usually cause blindness in survivors, but speculated at the time that bacterial blood meeting Mullins’ retinal artery could have caused him to lose his eyesight. Now, Mullins is once more a professional skateboarder.

Although it may be impossible to keep all locker rooms perfectly clean, there are a number of behavioral precautions that athletes at all levels should take to protect themselves from staph and MRSA infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that “good personal hygiene” is only the first step. They recommend regular handwashing with “soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer” as a regular habit, but add that protecting skin and open wounds is also extremely important. The CDC cites wrestling, football, and rugby as sports where athletes are at most risk for staph and MRSA infections, but points out that, “MRSA infections have been reported among athletes in other sports such as soccer, basketball, field hockey, volleyball, rowing, martial arts, fencing, and baseball.”

According to Thomas, in the end, “Prevention is what will save lives."
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