Football Scrapes and Nasty Infections

The scrapes suffered by professional football players on the field can lead to serious skin infections.

Sports are fun, but they can also be dangerous. Broken bones, pulled muscles, and sprained joints are all common injuries among athletes. Now, researchers have identified another possible risk of playing certain sports.

Among professional football players in the United States, cuts and scrapes can lead to nasty skin infections. Caused by bacteria, many of these infections are hard to treat and resistant to common medicines.

The scrapes and cuts suffered by professional football players on the field can lead to serious skin infections that may spread to teammates or even opposing players.

The study focused on players for the St. Louis Rams. The team plays on a field with artificial turf instead of real grass. Scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta found that, between August and November of 2003, each player averaged 2 to 3 scrapes, or turf burns, per week.

Many of these scrapes didn’t just go away. Infections were common. In fact, three-fifths of the Rams players said that they had been treated with an antibiotic during the season. And each player received an average of 2.6 such prescriptions that year. That’s 10 times the number of prescriptions that men their age who don’t play professional football receive.

Out of the 58 players on the team, five developed infections that didn’t improve after treatment with a few of the most common types of antibiotics. Instead, doctors had to use other types of treatment.

The infections in these five players were caused by a resistant form of a bacterium called Staphylococcus aureus. Staph bacteria can live harmlessly on many skin surfaces. But when the skin is punctured or broken for any reason, staph bacteria can enter the wound and cause an infection.

During the 2003 season, some players on other teams that played against the Rams in St. Louis also suffered the same sort of infection. The CDC researchers suggest that the bacterium may get spread around during a game, going from one player’s scrapes to the turf to other players’ scrapes. Players can also come into contact with bacteria during practices, in locker rooms, and in the community.

Recognizing the dangers of a game doesn’t mean people shouldn’t play it. The new study just reinforces how important it is to take precautions. Besides wearing helmets and pads, the scientists say, football players should make sure they wash their hands a lot, shower before getting into the team’s hot tubs together, and refuse to share towels.

Bruises and cuts are painful enough. Infections just add to the misery. They’re another unnecessary obstacle to performing well.—E. Sohn

Going Deeper:

Seppa, Nathan. 2005. There’s the rub: Football abrasions can lead to nasty infections. Science News 167(Feb. 5):85-86. Available at http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20050205/fob5.asp .

You can learn more about infections caused by Staphylococcus aureus at vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~mow/chap3.html (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and kidshealth.org/parent/infections/
bacterial_viral/staphylococcus.html
(KidsHealth for Parents).

More Stories from Science News for Students on Health & Medicine