As many of us have heard on the news, MRSA (pronounced mur-sa) is scary. It attacks quietly – many thinking they just have a boil or pimple at first – then it quickly develops into a raging infection that is very difficult to treat. MRSA stands for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. In other words MRSA is a strain of staph bacteria that is resistant to commonly used antibiotics that are used to treat a ‘normal’ Staph infection. As you can imagine, this is very problematic. This strain of bacteria can be deadly, but it is treatable if identified early and treated quickly.
The best way to prevent the spread of MRSA as well as many other bacteria and viruses is to practice good hygiene. Proper hand washing with soap and water alone greatly decreases the spread of communicable disease. 15-20 seconds rubbing vigorously with hand soap and water is all it takes to get rid of most bugs.
You would be surprised at how many surfaces we touch daily that can harbor the bacteria. And once contaminated with the bacteria, some surfaces can host them nicely for months!
Here are some unnerving facts about how long MRSA can survive at room temperature on common surfaces around our everyday environment:
- Stainless Steel – 3 days
- Mop – 8 weeks
- Cotton Towels – 9 weeks
- Linens/Blankets – 6 months
- Common Dust – 7 months
- Healthy Skin – INDEFINITELY
That’s right; some people can be natural carriers of Staph. About 7% of those who work in hospitals/health care facilities are carriers of the bacteria, and about 2% of the normal population. What this means is that these individuals can carry the bacteria on their skin without becoming infected themselves, but they are more susceptible to having active infections in open cuts or scraps on the skin, or if their immune system is otherwise compromised.
What are the signs and symptoms?
As mentioned earlier a MRSA infection can be very deceiving. The first signs and symptoms start to appear between 4 and 10 days after contact. The initial appearance usually looks like a raised bump, with a white center and very red perimeter. It can range in size and can mimic the look of a pimple or boil. MRSA infections spread extremely fast however, and an infected person may have extreme pain and swelling in the area infected very quickly. As time goes by, the bacteria emaciate the flesh as it spreads out from the initial area of infection. As it spreads the individual will be in immense pain, and will have systemic symptoms such as fever, chills, nausea, and shortness of breath, chest pain, and general ill feeling. Not only does MRSA attack the skin, but it can also infect bone, heart, lung, and blood. These infections can progress from the first signs and symptoms to death in just a few days if left untreated.
How can YOU prevent MRSA infections?
Staph and MRSA infections have become increasingly more prevalent in the athletic community. Here are some guidelines to help keep you MRSA free and in the game!
- Clean Hands thoroughly with soap and water or alcohol based hand sanitizer both before and after practice
- Immediately Shower after practice and/or exercise and use a clean towel Every Time.
- Keep all wounds clean and covered until they are completely healed, especially during competition or practice
- Keep all equipment and uniforms clean and in good condition. If washing towels and gear, do so in HOT (140 degrees Fahrenheit) water, and be sure that these items are completely dried in a dryer. (High heat helps to sanitize clothing).
- Never share equipment, towels, razors, or soap as this can spread bacteria.
- Always report any suspicious skin rash/lesions to your Athletic Trainer, Physician, or other Health Care Professionals for proper evaluation. Early detection is KEY.
*Reported by the LA County Jail – inmate died three days after first symptoms of MRSA appeared.
For further helpful information on MRSA and ways to prevent it, click on the following links: