Most athletes expect injuries and not an infection to be the thing that would most likely make them miss some time. Viral, fungal, and bacterial infections can not only take a person out of the game, but can be serious enough to require hospitalization. Recent outbreaks of Staph infections at schools and even ones affecting professional teams (e.g. Tampa Bay Buccaneers) have shed light on the issue, but many athletes are still unaware of the potential for infection in locker rooms, outdoor sporting activities, and even among family. Here are some commons infections that can afflict athletes.
Perhaps the most dreaded and serious of them all are the Staph bacterial infections. Most recently, there has been a surge in community-acquired MRSA infections (a resistant strain) that often affects those with poor hygiene, who live in crowded situations, and have had recent trauma to the skin. They are particularly common in wrestlers, football players, and anywhere there is shared use of contaminated equipment. A recent study showed that there was a 22% prevalence of Staph in locker room whirlpools in college training rooms. It will often present as a red, painful bump but can also develop into abscesses and further soft-tissue infection. Prevention is key with frequent hand washing being the most important prophylaxis. How it presents determines how it is treated. Fluid collections should be drained and all patients should be placed on antibiotics that target the resistant form. Returning to play, per various groups’ guidelines, should only be considered after treatment for 72 hours, no new lesions for 48 hours, and no drainage being present.
Infectious Mononucleosis (IM)
Also known as “kissing disease”, IM is a common viral infection that affects teenagers and young adults, and is often caused from sharing water bottles. Patients will experience a sore throat, body aches/pains, fatigue, fevers, and possibly a rash, and it may take upwards of a month for symptoms to present themselves after one is exposed. The most concerning feature associated with IM is spleen enlargement. When an athlete’s spleen is enlarged, especially contact athletes, this puts them at risk for having the spleen rupture, and, while although rare, can be potentially fatal. IM symptoms usually disappear after 3-4 weeks but may take longer till an athlete is ready to return to sports. Controversy exists with regards to when a contact athlete with IM is safe to return to sports, but most studies show that is probably safe after 4-6 weeks for them to return to play.
Caused by direct skin-to-skin contact, fungal infections are quite prevalent and can affect all parts of the body. “Athlete’s foot”, “jock itch”, “ringworm” all fall into this category. While they don’t usually cause too much in the way of significant health issues, they can cause athletes to miss quite of bit of practice and competition time. Most commonly, treatment is in the form of topical creams/ointments, but for more serious cases oral treatment may be needed. Current guidelines recommend 72 hours of topical treatment for non-scalp infections and having a protective dressing over all lesions for return to play.
While infections are an often overlooked cause of athletes and patients missing time from their sports or activities, they can be just as frustrating as an injury with regards to time off, treatment, and recovery. Sarasota Orthopedic Associates is driven to helping get their patients back in the game, no matter the cause.
Trevor Born, MD – Dr Born is a Sports Medicine physician at Sarasota Orthopedic Associates specializing in upper and lower extremity conditions. SOA has three convenience locations in Sarasota, Lakewood Ranch, and Venice and offers same day appointments when needed.