When it comes to health risks associated with youth sports, we tend to think of injuries on the field of play. But dangers lurk off the field as well – dangers you don’t see because they are microscopic.
Sports-related infections spread easily in locker rooms and weight rooms, on mats, towels and sports equipment. The risk is especially high in close-contact sports such as wrestling and football, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
One of the most notorious germs is Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) – better known as a staph infection.
“In sports, this is a big issue,” said Julie Tsirambidis, director of the Advanced Practice Center at Akron Children’s Hospital and a certified nurse practitioner at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics, Brecksville.“Often skin infections, boils or abscesses are MRSA.”
MRSA accounts for more than 60 percent of staph infections – and some sources quote nearly 80 percent, Julie said.
“Staph infections can start mildly enough — maybe just a small boil on the skin — but can then spread quickly to produce extensive, potentially fatal skin and soft tissue infections,” she said. “It can also spread through the bloodstream to the lungs, bones, kidneys or heart.”
It’s not just staph type infections that can be transmitted by close contact. Fungal infections such as ringworm, infestations such as lice and scabies, and viruses are also commonly seen when precautions aren’t taken.
Julie’s first piece of advice for student-athletes is to not share drinks, towels, hats, helmets, razors or personal hygiene products. Other steps to prevent infections:
- Shower as early as possible after practices and games.
- Wash athletic gear and uniforms regularly in hot water.
- Wash hands often.
- Athletes should be examined regularly for skin infections, including impetigo, boils and abscesses.
- Infected athletes should not return to sports until they are appropriately treated.
- Contact surfaces such as wrestling mats and equipment should be cleaned and disinfected regularly.
- Students should also be up to date on vaccinations, according to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics on preventing infections in organized sports.
Infectious diseases account for about 10 to 15 percent of injuries that force college-level athletes to take time off from playing a sport, the AAP said.