Formerly found only in hospitals, staph strain becoming more prevalent
By Melissa Bear
At first glance, the scar on Krista McAra’s leg appears somewhat irregular. To the touch, scar tissue can be felt beneath the surface of her skin.
In August, McAra, a junior volleyball player, noticed a spot on her right calf that appeared to be a pimple or an insect bite of some sort.
After several days, it appeared to have grown larger or become infected, about the size of a golf ball on her leg.
“I was having a lot of pain in my leg from it,” McAra said.
After several trips to the athletic trainer, the school nurse and the doctor, McAra was diagnosed with methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus or MRSA – a staph infection that has become increasingly common in high school and college athletic departments over the past eight years.
If not caught early, MRSA can evolve from a small bump to an open, oozing sore, and eventually spread to bloodstream infections or pneumonia.
MRSA has historically been associated with hospitals and healthcare facilities, and in the past was more commonly found in elderly people.
It was first found within athletic departments in 1998, and has been occurring more frequently in recent years.
“No one seems to know for sure why MRSA is on the rise in this age group. It could be related to the increase in antibiotic usage,” said Flagler College nurse Holly Doucette.
It is primarily spread through skin-to-skin contact, but can also be spread through sharing towels, athletes not showering, or unclean locker rooms or training room facilities.
MRSA is a strain that can be highly resistant to antibiotics, and after progression could be misdiagnosed due to flu-like symptoms.
In 2003, the NCAA warned athletic departments after several outbreaks which had occurred within that year, including the death of one football player in Pennsylvania due to a diagnosis that occurred too late.
That same year, five members of the St. Louis Rams football team were diagnosed with MRSA, and an investigation into the hygiene of the players showed that there were cases of players skipping showers or using communal whirlpools without sufficient cleaning.
This past spring, the 2006 meeting of the National Athletic Trainers Association addressed MRSA, what athletic trainers needed to look for and the steps that should be taken in order to help prevent it from spreading.
The association plans to look further into the issue of MRSA in their December meeting, with the possibility of developing a policy directed at dealing with the disease.
When Flagler College’s athletic trainer, Jenifer Crozier first examined McAra’s leg, Crozier initially dismissed it as nothing of too much concern.
“After a while it was really bothering her, so I told her to go see the school nurse,” Crozier said.
When McAra was diagnosed, Crozier disinfected the entire women’s volleyball locker room and bathroom. As the trainer over the Saints athletic program, Crozier has tried to take preventative steps to do her best to prevent another outbreak at Flagler.
“I try to make sure everyone uses clean towels, keep the locker room disinfected and I wash my hands a lot,” she said.
Sonya Thigpen, athletic trainer at Jacksonville Orthopedic Institute and for the Florida Community College Athletic program says that athletes should be more aware of the risks to which they may expose themselves.
“I think that some sort of awareness could be implemented, because so many athletes are clueless,” she said.
It is not just those within high school or college athletic programs who should take caution.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least one in four people carry the bacteria on their body, but it is not a cause for concern until the bacteria reaches a cut on the skin.
Both Crozier and Thigpen take similar steps to ensure cleanliness in their facilities.
“I never want anything I do or don’t do to be the cause of someone getting sick,” Thigpen said.
Although she did not meet with the entire athletic department, Crozier has spoken to her athletes individually on the risks of MRSA.
“I think that it is something that would be a good idea to make everyone aware of what it looks like and how it can spread,” Crozier said.
Since sitting out very early in the season, McAra has recovered completely and was named Flagler College athlete of the week for the week of Oct. 9.