MRSA: Protecting student athletes

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus — or MRSA — has been a problem in hospital and health care settings for decades. More recently, this highly drug-resistant bacterium has become a problem among otherwise healthy school-age athletes. Is your child at risk? What can you do to protect against MRSA infection? James M. Steckelberg, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., answers these and other common questions about MRSA.

What is MRSA?

MRSA is a type of bacterium that can resist the effects of many common antibiotics. This ability makes MRSA infections much more difficult to cure.

MRSA first surfaced in hospitals, where it often caused serious bloodstream infections in people who were sick with other diseases and conditions. Now there are varieties of MRSA that occur in nonhospital settings. These infections typically affect the skin of otherwise healthy individuals — such as student athletes.

What does an MRSA infection look like?

An MRSA skin infection looks like a boil, pimple or spider bite that may be:

  • Red
  • Swollen
  • Painful
  • Pus-filled and oozing

These infections most commonly occur at sites where the skin has been broken by cuts or scrapes, or on areas of the skin covered by hair, such as the:

  • Back of the neck
  • Groin
  • Buttock
  • Armpit
  • Beard area on men

How does MRSA spread?

MRSA is spread by:

  • Skin-to-skin contact. MRSA can be transmitted from one person to another by skin-to-skin contact. While MRSA skin infections can occur in participants of many types of sports, they're much more likely to occur in contact sports — such as football, wrestling and rugby.
  • Touching contaminated objects. If drainage from an MRSA skin infection comes into contact with an object — like a towel, weight training equipment or a shared jar of ointment — the next person who touches that object may become infected with MRSA bacteria.
Jul. 02, 2013 See more In-depth