As the top school district administrator, it is your responsibility to reduce liability and unnecessary exposure to the student-athletes in your district and create a safe environment for them to participate. It takes effort by everyone involved, from the principal to the coach. As we’ve moved indoors for the majority of the winter sports programs it also offers the opportunity for increased exposure to skin infections. As a superintendent, the question you must ask of your staff is, “What preventative measures are we taking to ensure that we are reducing exposure to staph infection (commonly called Herpes by the media) in our athletic area?” These outbreaks most often occur in the wrestling room, wrestling mats and locker room that generate headlines in the media.
Certain types of skin infections have been shown to spread among members of sports teams at all levels. Many of these infections are caused by an organism called Staphylococcus Aureus, often referred to simply as “staph”. These bacteria are commonly carried on the skin or in the nose of otherwise healthy people. Staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of skin infections in the United States. Most of these skin infections are minor (such as pimples and boils) and can be treated without antibiotics, but occasionally serious infections requiring treatment occur.
Some staph bacteria are resistant to antibiotics. MRSA (methicillin-resistant staph aureus) is a type of staph resistant to many common antibiotics, and in cases where treatment is needed, can be more difficult to treat. MRSA can have serious and deadly ramification is not dealt with immediately.
In order to avoid the occurrence and spread of such infections in sports teams we have formulated a set of recommendations for schools and coaches.
- Cover all wounds. If a wound cannot be covered adequately, consider excluding players with potentially infectious skin lesions from practice and competition until the lesion is healed or can be covered adequately. Bandages should be disposed of so as to prevent other people contacting them, and anyone handling such bandages should use gloves and wash hands thoroughly.
- Encourage good hygiene, including showering and washing with soap after all practices and competitions.
- Ensure availability of adequate soap and clean towels. If there are known MRSA cases among team members, antibacterial soap is preferred.
- Towels and uniforms should ideally be cleaned after each use.
- Discourage sharing of towels and personal items such as razors, clothing and equipment.
- Train athletes and coaches in first aid for wounds and in recognition of wounds that are potentially infected or infectious.
- Encourage athletes to report skin lesions to coaches and encourage coaches to assess athletes for skin lesions.
- Consider placing alcohol hand sanitizer dispensers at the exits from facilities such as locker rooms and wrestling rooms and encourage their use. If hands are visibly soiled, soap and water is preferred.
- Encourage use of clothing or clean towels to create a barrier between skin and equipment such as weight machines which are used by more than one person.
- Wipe down common surfaces such as gymnasium mats and exercise benches with an appropriate disinfectant on a regular basis. Commercially available disinfectants such as Lysol can be used as can isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol or a diluted bleach solution (one part bleach to nine parts water). Be sure the disinfectant used will not damage the surface being cleaned.
For more information on MRSA, including warning signs and prevention tips visit the Sports Medicine section of the CIF State website www.cifstate.org
Additionally, learn more about Skin Infection by viewing the NWCA Skin Infection Webinar, as recommended by the NFHS (National Federation of State High School Associations).