NEWARK–While team sports often bring out the best in athletes, close contact may also result in unwanted and contagious skin infections. Outbreaks of ringworm and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) have occurred at the high school, collegiate, and professional level nationwide. This was a recent topic at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology.
“Skin-to-skin contact among athletes may result in a widespread outbreak of skin conditions caused by bacteria, viruses and fungi, “ reports Maria Espiritu-Fuller, M.D., MPH, Director of Infection Control at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and Director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of New Jersey. “Coaches, parents and players should have an awareness of these conditions and ways to reduce them.”
MRSA, a type of staphylococcus that causes infections resistant to common antibiotics, is an issue for athletes and can be life-threatening. A skin and soft tissue infection with MRSA may appear as a pimple, “boils” or abscess and may be red, swollen, and tender.
Football is the most commonly reported sport for athletes to be exposed to MRSA infections. Rapid diagnosis and therapy are crucial in treating MRSA skin infections and preventing the spread among team members.
Wrestlers in particular are at risk for developing impetigo – a highly contagious bacterial infection of the skin.
“Frequent close physical contact, involvement in activities that result in skin abrasions, sharing of potentially contaminated sporting equipment, crowding and inconsistencies in maintaining personal hygiene can all contribute to passing on infection,” adds Dr. Espiritu-Fuller.
Tinea corporis or ringworm is a fungal skin infection that is characterized by an itchy, red circular rash. Most commonly, the lesions appear on the head, neck and extremities and develop after skin-to-skin contact with an affected person.
Another common fungal infection that athletes are prone to is tinea pedis, or athlete’s foot. The clinical appearance of athlete’s foot includes peeling, cracking or scaling between toes or redness and scaling on the soles and sides of the feet.
“Athletes should see a physician immediately if any type of unusual change in the skin occurs,” adds Dr. Espiritu-Fuller.
The Department of Infection Control at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer the following suggestions to reduce infections in sports activities:
- Wash frequently with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand rub.
- At a minimum, hands should be cleaned before and after playing sports and activities such as using shared weight-training equipment.
- If hands are not dirty and sinks are not available, alcohol-based hand rubs and sanitizers can be used. Alcohol-based hand rubs with at least 60% alcohol content are preferred.
- Shower immediately after exercise and do not share bar soap or towels.
- Wash your uniform and clothing after each use.
- Wear protective clothing designed to prevent skin abrasions or cuts.
- Cover skin abrasions and cuts with clean dry bandages or other dressings recommended by your team’s healthcare provider until healed.
- Avoid sharing personal items such as towels and razors.
- Do not share ointments by placing your hands into an open container.
- Use a barrier (such as clothing or a towel) between your skin and shared equipment like weight-training, sauna, and steam-room benches.
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