(NaturalNews) Infection with methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is 16 times higher than the national average among Texas high school football players, according to three studies conducted by the Texas Department of Health Services.
MRSA is an antibiotic resistant version of the same bacteria that causes staph infections. If untreated, staph infections can spread to the blood and from there to internal organs, with potentially lethal consequences. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that MRSA kills more people in the United States than any other infection tracked by the CDC, including AIDS.
The disease is often associated with hospitals, but in recent years has become more common in other institutional settings such as prisons, nursing homes and schools. Because the disease can live harmlessly on a person's skin until it enters through an abrasion, it is easily spread through physical contact, making athletes who share locker rooms particularly susceptible.
MRSA infection rates are higher among football players than among other athletes, perhaps because football players are more likely to get minor skin abrasions when they slide in the turf. A totally of 276 football players in the United States contracted the disease between 2003 and 2005, translating to 517 out of every 100,000. This contrasts sharply with the overall national rate of 32 per 100,000.
As the disease has become more widespread, health experts have increasingly come to view it as a major public health threat.
"This is an epidemic,'' said MRSA researcher David Smith. "It's a big problem, and it's likely to get bigger.''
A study co-authored by Smith and published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases found that hospitalizations in the United States due to MRSA more than doubled between 1999 and 2005.
Athletes and people in institutional settings can reduce their risk of contracting MRSA by washing their hands frequently, washing and covering skin wounds, disinfecting whirlpools between users and not sharing towels or razors.