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Why Athletes Are at High Risk for Dangerous Skin Infections?

Posted on May 16, 2018 by Joe Fleming

Noble-RedskinsWhen it comes to staying fit and injury-free, many athletes look to preventing common sprains, strains, and ligament tears. What about the dangers of skin infections though? Surprisingly, these seemingly harmless culprits can turn into the most life-threatening of them all. Don’t forget about the former tight end for the New York Giant, Daniel Fells, who almost had his foot amputated due to a skin infection in 2016; or the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle, Brandon Noble, who fought MRSA complications for two whole years.

When it comes to recognizing the signs of skin infections and taking quick action, a little knowledge goes a long way. Don’t miss this quick guide:

Common Skin Infections Among Athletes

While various skin ailments can plague athletes, the following are often most widely spread. They include:

MRSA – this antibiotic-resistant strain of staph bacteria, specifically methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is fatal when left untreated and continues to affect not just professional athletes on a yearly basis, but college and even high school-age players too.

Staph bacteria naturally resides on people’s bodies; in fact, an estimated 1 in 3 people carry around staph bacteria in their nose (and between 5 and 10% actually carry around MRSA). Though typically harmless, sometimes when staph bacteria makes its way into open skin (which is common for athletes, especially in contact sports, to have) it can infect tissue, blood, the respiratory system, and more.

MRSA skin infections initially look like a protruding bump under the skin that is tender, warm to the touch, red, painful, and sometimes full of pus. You may also experience fever. It is critical that you seek medical treatment right away as early intervention is your best bet against fighting MRSA. Oftentimes the infection must be drained from the body to prevent it from spreading.

Athlete’s Foot – did you know the same fungus that causes athlete’s foot also causes ringworm and jock itch? Athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) most often presents as an itchy, burning, bumpy rash on the webbed skin in between toes, however, it can also be accompanied by scaling, flaking, and fissuring of skin on the bottom and sides of the feet as well as blisters and ulcerous sores.

Left untreated, athlete’s foot can actually transfer to other parts of the body like the arms, chest, hand, groin, and nails. While athlete’s foot can be treated most often with over-the-counter antifungal aids like creams, powders, and ointments, if intense scratching causes the skin to open, a worse infection can occur.

Other skin infections common to sports players include impetigo (red sores and blisters around the nose and mouth) and mat herpes (herpes gladiatorum).

How Do Skin Infections Spread?

A 2017 study published in the journal Sports Medicine found that athletes in contact sports were not only twice as likely to be carrying MRSA as their non-contact sports counterparts, but they were more likely to contract the bacteria as well as carry it around for a longer period.

Athletes experience many of the risk factors that make a person more susceptible to developing skin infections. For example, athletes are more likely to:

  • Sweat in their socks and clothes due to physical activity (warm, moist environments are breeding grounds for fungi and bacteria)

  • Walk around barefoot in public areas like bathrooms, locker rooms, etc

  • Share items that come into contact with skin like towels, razors, and soap

  • Share facilities and workout equipment like gym machines, weights, and mats

  • Undergo surgical repair for sports injuries that opens the body up to greater infection

Practice good hygiene and take preventative steps to warding off skin infections on and off the field with these tips:

  • Ensure hygienic use of footwear and socks including changing socks regularly, alternating footwear so it has plenty of time to air out between uses, washing socks and shoes regularly, and using antifungal powder in them as needed (to prevent athlete’s foot)

  • Avoid sharing items that come into contact with skin like phones, linens, soap, and razors

  • Wear protection on your feet when walking around publicly-accessed areas like locker rooms, bathrooms, and changing rooms

  • Avoid playing if you have an open wound, cut, etc. until it has healed

  • Address open skin injuries and properly clean and bandage them to avoid contamination

  • Clean and sanitize workout and weight room equipment before and after you use it

  • Do not use facilities you share with teammates (like ice baths and saunas) if you have an existing infection

And never forget to wash your hands before and after practice and games. A little soap and water can do wonders for keeping your skin clean and infection-free!

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