Education Feature

Staph Infection

By Yvette J. Brown
CWK Network

 

"It gets in the bloodstream and it can cause sepsis or infection of the blood, which makes you very sick and can result in death."
- Dr. Robert Harrison -


Junior Seau of the Miami Dolphins, four members of Southern Cal's football team, and several kids on football, wrestling and even fencing teams have all been hospitalized this year for life-threatening skin infections. These high-profile cases have hi-lighted a risk that all athletes should be aware of.

In every wrestling room around the country, kids are at risk.

"Pretty much every practice you're gonna leave with some kind of scrape or something," says 18 year-old wrestler, Bobby Caperton.

17 year-old John Cook, 17 agrees that those injuries are just part of the sport. "I've had a couple of scrapes in there and not thought anything about it," he says.

And it's not just wrestling. Any contact sport puts kids at risk for cuts and scrapes, and something more serious.

Infectious Diseases Specialist Dr. Robert Harrison, explains, " It's called staph or staphylococcus aureus, which is a normal skin germ and can cause infection, inflammation and swelling, which is a cellulitis or deeper infections."

It is a normal skin germ that's harmless.until it gets into a cut. And then, untreated, says Dr. Harrison, "It gets in the bloodstream and it can cause sepsis or infection of the blood, which makes you very sick and can result in death."

In addition to the potential seriousness of the infection, the germs are also becoming more difficult to treat.

"Due to the widespread use of antibiotics in America, staph, staph aureus around the country is now becoming resistant to penicillins," says Dr. Robert Harrison

There are other antibiotics that will work, but prevention is the key. The first step is keeping sports equipment clean.

Cook says his wrestling team is careful about their equipment. "We wash down the mats every day before practice and after practice," he says.

The second step is to keep skin clean, including cuts and scrapes. Dr. Harrison recommends, "the best thing you can do is a good soap and water cleaning of an abrasion."

And lastly, when kids do get a cut, watch closely for signs of infection, which includes, "an area of redness and swelling and pain and tenderness on the skin. They may have fever as well and then they should be seen fairly quickly by a physician to diagnose and treat."

And keeping the kids informed about how to protect themselves can be effective. Caperton agrees, "you leave with a scrape or something like that, there's no doubt that it could be dangerous. And it puts in your mind that maybe you should clean the mats a little more thoroughly."

Experts also recommend against using topical antibiotics on everyday cuts and scrapes, because they can contribute to antibiotic-resistant germs.
 
Related Information

A staph infection is actually the staphylococcus aureus bacteria. According to doctors in the Columbia University Health System, common minor (or relatively minor) skin infections caused by staph include:

  • Folliculitis - Infections of hair follicles that cause itchy white pus-filled bumps on the skin (often where people shave or have irritations from skin rubbing against clothes).
  • Boils - Infections deeper within hair follicles that leave large, frequently red inflammations (often occur on the face or neck).
  • Sties - Infection of the follicle surrounding the eyelashes, causing a sore red bump in the eyelid.
  • Impetigo - The infection kids often get around their mouths and noses that causes blisters and red scabby skin.
  • Abscesses - Infection characterized by pus and swelling that can occur in the skin and in any other organ.
 
What Parents Need to Know

Staph infections are very common, so much so that many people don't know they have one. They can infect any part of the body and usually enter through an open cut. The best way to treat staph infections is by administering antibiotics, which are used to fight many bacterial infections. However. the American Medical Association suggests using caution with any type of medicine and has provided a list of things to know before using antibiotics.

  • •  Antibiotics do not work against all infections. Antibiotics work only against infections that are caused by bacteria. These drugs are not effective at all against most viral infections. This is why your doctor will not always prescribe an antibiotic if you have an infection. Some antibiotics are effective against only certain types of bacteria. Others can effectively fight a wide range of bacteria. Bacterial infections include strep throat, most ear infections and some sinus, bladder and lung infections.
  • Most common infections - such as colds, bronchitis and sore throats - are caused by viruses. Antibiotics should not be used for these viral infections because they don't help. In fact, they may cause side effects, and overuse of antibiotics contributes to the growing problem of bacterial resistance. Some viral infections such as herpes infection, some cases of influenza and HIV/AIDS can be treated with antiviral drugs. Based on your illness and symptoms, your doctor can determine if prescribing an antibiotic is appropriate. Your doctor will then select the antibiotic that will work best for your infection.
  • Antibiotics may cause side effects. If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, be sure to ask him or her what possible side effects are possible. Antibiotics can cause nausea, diarrhea and stomach pain. In some people, an allergic reaction can occur. Some antibiotics kill naturally occurring bacteria that are needed by the body. These "good" bacteria are then replaced by bacteria that can cause diarrhea or yeast infections. If you experience any side effects when you are taking an antibiotic, you should call your doctor.
  • Bacteria can become resistant to an antibiotic that was previously effective. Resistance is most likely to develop after long-term treatment with an antibiotic or with antibiotics that kill a wide variety of bacteria. Resistance is a growing problem, and there is concern that some types of infections will eventually not be treatable with antibiotics. This resistance is ascribed to overuse of antibiotics, especially for common viral infections.
  • It is very important that antibiotics be taken as prescribed. Antibiotics should only be used when prescribed by your doctor. Consult with your doctor before taking any other medications (including over-the-counter medications). You should never take antibiotics given to you by someone else or prescribed for a previous illness.
  • The dosage is a very important factor in antibiotic effectiveness. If the dosage of the antibiotic is not adequate, it will not be effective for treatment of the infection and bacteria are more likely to develop resistance. This is because the bacteria can continue to grow and develop ways to disrupt the antibiotic's effects.
  • Antibiotics must be taken for the full amount of time prescribed by your doctor. Many times, patients will stop the use of an antibiotic when they begin to feel better and it seems that the illness has gone. However, even after the symptoms are gone, the bacteria may still be present in small amounts and an infection can return if use of the antibiotic is stopped. Not completing the prescribed dose may also promote resistance.
  • Antibiotics should not be saved and reused. You should always take the full course of antibiotic treatment, so none of the drug should be "left over." However, if this has occurred, the antibiotics should not be taken to treat any other illness. Different types of infections require different types of antibiotics, so taking leftover medications is often not effective.
  • Always consult your doctor if you have an infection. Only your doctor can determine if you have an infection and the type of antibiotic that will be most effective and that is safe for you to take.
 
Resources

The Medem Network
American Medical Association
Psychological and Emotional Aspects of Divorce