Spring training and super bugs: Collier schools fight to protect student-athletes

The game against super bug bacteria is beginning as local students head to the gyms for spring training. This is not a game of chance. Rather it’s a matter of life and death.

But school officials in Collier County say they are prepared and ready to fight back. For the Collier County Health Department, that’s good news.

According to Deb Millsap, the department’s director of nutrition and health education, when a student-athlete died three years ago in Florida due to complications arising from Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Collier County Public Schools stepped up to the plate to hit a homerun against super bug bacteria.

Schools enlisted assistance of the health department to revamp locker room cleaning procedures, ultimately educating trainers and coaches to control deadly strains of bacteria. Meanwhile, some high school locker rooms were totally renovated to prevent outbreaks of deadly bacteria and viruses threatening student-athletes.

Is this enough effort to stave off deadly bacteria, which can bring a student-athlete to a hospital for months of recovery? The answer is not easy. S. aureus, or (staph infections) including invasive MRSA, can be spread among people who are in close contact with an infected person.

MRSA is mostly spread by direct physical contact, and usually not through the air. Sometimes, MRSA can be spread by indirect contact by touching objects such as towels, sheets, wound dressings, clothes, workout areas, or sports equipment, contaminated with staph.

“MRSA is a super bug, because of the overuse of antibiotics, so the body can’t fight it. It’s resistant to many antibiotics,” Millsap said. “I remember in the past, this is something the coaches and athletic trainers had to keep under control. If an athlete has a rash or wound, the coach should refer them to the doctor and bandage it right away.”

David Stump, principal of Gulf Coast High School and a 36-year educator in Collier schools, had a lot to say about protecting students each day. His school currently has more than 11 spring athletic teams practicing. Stump fully understands the MRSA threat is here. His custodial staff are taking extra measures to clean surfaces in equipment rooms and locker areas.

“During tournaments especially, we always bring in extra custodial staff on the weekends. All of our staff have the correct chemicals, and they clean everything properly each night,” Stump said.

Cory Andrews, a certified athletic trainer with the NCH Healthcare System, understands the need for clean surfaces and clean bodies.

“Right now, with spring training season, you see 20 people a day. We just finished 300 to 400 athletes. It’s a general overall hygiene issue. Therefore, we encourage athletes to wash their hands often. We also make sure they are taking showers after practices and games,” Andrews said.

Preventing occurrences of MRSA and containing outbreaks is a constant priority for Andrews and his teams at Golden Gate High School.

“I use an EPA approved cleaning agent, so whenever a student gets off the table, all tables are cleaned,” Andrews said.

“It’s a question of when it becomes a problem. Sometimes they still develop an infection,” he said. “If they have any open wounds, I make sure they cover them up, and they are cleaned and covered. Depending on what it looks like — as when it is red with puffiness — I will send them to the doctor, and they have to bring a doctor’s note to go back to competition.”

General recommendations from the health department for those who use athletic facilities, such as athletes, parents and coaches, to prevent the spread of MRSA are:

• Clean potentially contaminated surfaces carefully with a disinfectant or bleach of 5.25 percent household chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water after caring for the wound.

• Wash hands frequently with soap and water, especially after using health facilities.

• Avoid using personal items such as towels, washcloths, razors, clothing, or uniforms, that were in contact with an infected individual or potentially infected material.

• Report any suspicious skin sore or boil to your healthcare provider and school nurse immediately.

• If you participate in sports involving close personal contact (for example, wrestling and football) shower immediately with soap after each game, practice, or match.

• Athletic clothing worn during practice or competitions should be washed regularly.

• Non-washable gear, such as head protectors, should be wiped down with alcohol after each use.

• Athletic equipment such as wrestling or gymnastic mats should be wiped down daily with an antibacterial solution.

• Prior to any game, match, or tournament, coaches should ask athletes about any open skin sores or boils.

• Individuals with an infection involving drainage and who are involved in close contact sports should be excluded from participation in sporting events and practices until no drainage is present and the infected site can be covered with a bandage and clothing.

• Any cut or break in the skin should be washed with soap and water and a clean dry dressing applied on a daily basis, before and after participation in close contact sports, and after using any sports facilities.

• Tell your healthcare provider, primary doctor, or school nurse, and the appropriate athletic personnel if you currently have or had any history of an antibiotic-resistant Staph infection.

For more information regarding MRSA and super bugs, call the Collier County Health Department at (239) 252-8220.

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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