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College Athletes in Contact Sports more likely to have MRSA

Update Date: Oct 09, 2014 10:04 AM EDT

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a bacterium that has developed resistance to many antibiotic treatments. Since most treatments will not work for an MRSA-infection, an infection could be fatal. In a new study, researchers examined the presence of MRSA in college athletes. They found that athletes who participated in contact sports were more likely to be carriers of MRSA.

"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," said Natalia Jimenez-Truque, PhD, MSCI, research instructor, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN. "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."

For this study, the researchers recruited 377 varsity athletes from 14 different sport teams at Vanderbilt University. 224 of the athletes played contact sports, such as football and soccer and 153 of them played non-contact sports, such as cross-country and golf. The team tracked the time it took for the athletes to be infected with Staphylococcus aureus (staph) and how long the bacteria stayed by collecting monthly nasal and throat swabs over the span of two academic years. People can carry the bacteria without showing any symptoms.

"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 according to the press release.

The team found that athletes in contact sports were two times more likely to carry MRSA in comparison to athletes in non-contact sports. Roughly eight to 31 percent of these athletes had evidence of MRSA colonization. In non-contact sport athletes and within the general population, the rate of MRSA colonization was 0 to 23 percent and five to 10 percent, respectively. The researchers added that athletes in contact sports acquired MRSA at a much faster rate and for a longer period of time in comparison to athletes from the other group.

The researchers were not surprised to find the difference in MRSA colonization between the two groups of athletes. People who participate in contact sports are bound to touch one another and transfer bacteria. In order to reduce the likelihood of transmission, the team stressed the importance of closing open wounds and maintaining good hygiene, ranging from washing hands to cleaning towels.

The researchers presented the study at IDWeek 2014.

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