People who play contact sports are more than twice as likely as those who play non-contact sports to carry MRSA, research has found.
Even if they do not show signs of infection, those who play football, rugby and other contact sports are more likely to carry methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), putting them at higher risk of infection and increasing the likelihood of spreading the bug.
“Sports teams can decrease the spread of MRSA by encouraging good hygiene in their athletes”
Players should practice good hygiene and not share soap, razors or towels to lower the chances of passing on the superbug, the study advised.
Researchers in the US analysed the time it took for college athletes to be colonised with Staphylococcus aureus (staph), including MRSA, and how long they carried it.
The study followed 377 male and female Vanderbilt University varsity athletes playing 14 different sports, including 224 who played contact sports such as football, basketball and lacrosse, comparing rates of colonisation with staph to the 153 who played non-contact sports like baseball and golf.
Each athlete had monthly nasal and throat swabs over the course of two academic years.
Contact sport athletes were more than twice as likely as non-contact players to be colonised with MRSA, meaning they carried the bug on their bodies, usually in their noses and throats.
The study also found contact athletes contracted MRSA more quickly and were colonised longer than non-contact athletes.
Throughout the two-year study, colonisation with MRSA ranged from 8% to 31% in contact sports athletes, compared with 0% to 23% of non-contact players.
Between 5% and 10% of the general population is colonised with MRSA in the US, according to researchers.
Natalia Jimenez-Truque, research instructor at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre in Nashville, Tennessee,
said: “This study shows that even outside of a full-scale outbreak, when athletes are healthy and there are no infections, there are still a substantial number of them who are colonised with these potentially harmful bacteria.
“Sports teams can decrease the spread of MRSA by encouraging good hygiene in their athletes, including frequent hand washing and avoiding sharing towels and personal items such as soap and razors,” she said.
The findings were presented at IDWeek 2014, the annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, the HIV Medicine Association and the Paediatric Infectious Diseases Society.