DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Dr. Stanley Deresinski, left, of Stanford and Dr. Alan Tice, a Honolulu infectious disease specialist, discussed staph A yesterday.
Sports can spread staph, researcher says
Athletes in contact sports are at the greatest risk of drug-resistant staph infections, says a doctor who was involved in diagnosing an outbreak among the St. Louis Rams in 2003.
The organism Staphylococcus aureus, also known as the "superbug," is in the environment, but the major method of acquiring it is through contact with another person, Dr. Stanley C. Deresinski, Stanford University clinical professor of medicine, said in an interview yesterday at the John A. Burns School of Medicine.
The outbreak of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus skin infections among the Rams was believed to be spread through uncovered abrasions, shared towels, whirlpools and weights.
Overuse of antibiotics also led to the resistant organism, Deresinski said, adding that 60 percent of players had an average of 2.6 antibiotic courses in 12 months -- "10 times what we expect at that age."
"Athletes get coddled," he said. "Someone was giving them antibiotics for every little problem, setting them up for bigger problems."
Hawaii's athletic directors, trainers and coaches are well aware of the potential dangers of methicillin-resistant staph infections, said Dr. Andrew Nichols, University of Hawaii-Manoa head team physician.
"We've really tried to clamp down on our preventive measures, educating the athletes, the trainers and coaches on how to minimize the spread of infection, to make sure towels aren't shared, the standard hygienic-type practices," he said.
They also make sure facilities are clean, he said, adding, "It's not a substantial change from what we've always done.
"Probably the most important intervention is education of individuals, especially student-athletes and staff on measures that can be taken to avoid infection. Lots of hand washing."
Abrasions and skin infections occur especially if teams play on an artificial surface, like the old Astroturf, Nichols said. "We call them rug burns. They take the skin right off. They seem to be susceptible to infection."
This has always occurred, he said, but the attacking organisms are now more drug-resistant, and it is "more of a challenge to treat them. Good medicine practice is not to overuse antibiotics. Overuse has led to much of the problem we see today."
Seven Leilehua High School football players had skin infections last fall that were attributed to the field's muddy conditions. However, athletic director Jim Toyota said yesterday he believes the problems were related to poor hygiene among the students. That has been corrected, and there have been no more skin infections, he said.
Deresinski spoke to coaches, athletic trainers, doctors and others interested in growing drug-resistant staph problems yesterday at a weekly Summer Staph Institute meeting at the medical school.
Dr. Alan Tice, UH-Manoa professor and private-practice infectious disease specialist; Dr. Matt Bankowski of the Diagnostic Laboratory Services; and Dr. Steven Seifried, associate professor of cell and molecular biology, started the institute for research and education on Staphylococcus aureus. Hawaii had the highest prevalence of the superbug in the nation in a survey of 1,200 hospitals, long-term care and rehabilitation facilities last fall.