Sports Medicine: MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus)
What is MRSA?
Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a serious bacterial infection that is sometimes called a “super bug” because it is resistant to many common antibiotics. MRSA infections that occur in hospital settings, where the people already have a weakend immune system. This is refered to as healthcare-associated MRSA or HA-MRSA. Another type of MRSA is community-associated MRSA or CA-MRSA. CA-MRSA is the type of MRSA that is the bigger concern to athletes. If not treated properly, MRSA can cause severe or chronic organ or musculoskeletal injury.
What causes MRSA?
Staphylococcus aureus (staph) is a very common bacteria that can live on our body even if we are healthy. Staph only presents a problem if it gets into the body. This occurs most commonly through a cut or scrape. Staph infections are very common and often minor, requiring no special treatment. However, the type of staph responsible for MRSA has become resistant to many antibiotics that were once used to treat it. Risk factors for CA-MRSA are:
- Young children with developing immune systems.
- Contact sports that cause cuts, scrapes and skin-to-skin contact.
- Athletic equipment sharing (uniforms, pads, towels and razors).
- Poor personal hygiene.
What are the symptoms of MRSA?
MRSA often starts out like all staph infections, with small red bumps that resemble pimples, boils, or a spider bite. These bumps can quickly turn into deep, painful abscesses. The area around the bumps can grow in redness and become warm to the touch. The abscesses can also produce a yellowish, foul smelling fluid known as pus. These symptoms may also be accompanied by a fever. It is important to see a physician if you have any of these symptoms, because on some occasions, MRSA can get into the bloodstream, organs, bones and joints and cause severe damage.
How is MRSA Diagnosed?
Physicians will use a cotton swab to test any fluids produced by the abscess and/or may take a swab of the nostrils to determine if the athlete is carrying MRSA. These swabs are sent to a lab for testing/culture. Results are usually available in 48 hours.
What is the treatment for MRSA?
If MRSA is suspected, treatment for the infection will begin accordingly until the swab results return. MRSA still responds to some antibiotics, therefore the physician will start the athlete on a course of appropriate antibiotics. Depending on the severity of the abscess, the physician may need to lance open the abscess to allow it to drain. In severe cases, the athlete will be hospitalized and put on IV antibiotics and a surgery may be required to flush the infection from the body.
What is the long-term outlook for MRSA?
With proper treatment, the outlook for athletes with MRSA is good. Most athletes fully return to competitive activity.