A recent report by CBS News discussed a silent threat to players in the NFL that seldom receives significant media attention: MRSA. MRSA stands for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a mouthful that refers to an especially nasty and hard to fight infection. MRSA is resistant to many antibiotics and is very difficult for doctors to treat. Beyond the dangers of concussion that are widely discussed, it appears players have to watch for danger that might be lurking in locker rooms as well.
Experts say that players at are a special risk of being infected with MRSA in locker rooms where it thrives given the frequent physical injuries they encounter. Scrapes, cuts and other traumas provide the perfect opportunity for such a nasty infection to enter a player’s body and wreak havoc.
Back in 2006, a deadly strain of staph infection was discovered in the Washington Redskins’ locker room, something that quickly caused trouble. Five players on the team were afflicted with MRSA in only a few months and in a stunning case one player, defensive lineman Brandon Noble, nearly lost his leg due to complications from the infection. Noble has since spoken out about the infection as an advocate for the Infectious Disease Society of America. Noble says that though the infection was invisible to the naked eye it was powerful enough to end his career.
Though it’s hard to imagine, the Redskins’ encounter was not the first in the NFL with the dangers of antibiotic resistant infections. Three years earlier the St. Louis Rams battled a similar outbreak and had to hire crews to use bleach to disinfect the entire facility. Before the bleaching took place, several players developed infected abscesses on their skin after MRSA made its way into turf burns on the players’ elbows and knees. MRSA was ultimately discovered in the team’s hot tubs and taping gel.
Rather than settle for bleach, the Redskins decided to make lasting changes to the way the locker room was constructed to try and prevent the development of such infections in the first place. Benches were replaced with stools, which eliminated common surfaces that could spread infections among the players. A new ventilation system was installed to dry sweat soaked flooring. UV lights were installed to kill bacteria, hot tubs were removed and reinstalled and the entire facility was sprayed to kill any remnants of the MRSA virus. The massive renovation ultimately cost the team more than $80,000.
The Cleveland Browns have also contended with staph infections, including MRSA, and have even had to defend themselves in two lawsuits against the team from injured players who claim the Browns failed to properly sanitize their equipment. Former receiver Joe Jurevicius and offensive lineman LeCharles Bentley say they suffered serious injuries due to the terrible infections and hope that their cases serve as a wakeup call to other NFL teams about the importance of taking action to clean up facilities.
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