We’ve all seen the pictures, fighters sidelined with the dreaded Staph infection. Most recently the MMA community saw Vinny Magalhaes drop out of his bout at Metamoris 3 due to this sometimes deadly infection. What do we really know about Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus aka Staph)?
From a medical standpoint, Staph is a bacteria, which can cause a varitey of skin infections such as pimples, boils, cellulitis, folliculitis, and abscesses. These simple infections, however, can progress to more serious and life threatening issues including osteomyelitis and sepsis. There are other complications but the two mentioned above are probably most relevant for the fight community. S. aureus infections can spread through contact with pus from an infected wound, skin-to-skin contact with an infected person as enzymes develop which destroy skin tissues.
This bacteria can also be spread through contact with objects such as towels, sheets, clothing, or athletic equipment used by an infected person. Deeply penetrating S. aureus infections can be severe as evidenced by the 2012 case of Staph experienced by Muhammed Lawal. Lawal also known as King Mo had a bout with Staph which ate away at parts of his hips and legs. The fighter later remarked that the abscesses had gone so deep that he could see parts of his skeleton. Also who can forget Kevin Randleman’s 2007 battle with a Staph infection that ate away at parts of his axilla and torso.
The treatment of choice for S. aureus infection is penicillin. Today, however, penicillin resistance is extremely common. In fact, s. aureus has become resistant to many commonly used antibiotics. In 1959 Methicillin was developed to treat S.aureus infections that were found to be resistant to penicillin. In 2014, however, Methicillin resistant s. aureus or MRSA has become an epidemic in the medical community making these infections even more difficult to treat. In studying the history of Staphylococcus aureus, each decade reveals it’s resistance to newer and “improved” antibiotics as well as the need for higher levels of care to administer said antibiotics as some of the more effective medications are not available as orally.
As a part of this story, I decided to consult one of my coworkers, an emergency room physician who also shares my passion for combat sports. During this conversation, we discussed the importance of cleanliness of equipment and of the fighters themselves as Staph is known to be spread through contact with infected surfaces and/or skin to skin contact with infected skin surfaces.
In hospitals as well as other industries there is a huge emphasis on hand washing as a means to prevent and/or reduce the spread of germs. Similarly, this simple strategy is applicable in the combat sports community but taken a step further. As a solution, the doctor suggests fighters wearing rash guard and/or other long sleeved garments as well as leggings to serve as an additional barrier between skin to skin contact as well as the regular cleaning of mats and other surfaces used by the fighters on which the bacteria can linger and grow. It is suggested by the CDC that a 1:10 bleach-to-water solution is appropriate for cleaning surfaces such as gym mats to which the fighters are exposed.
If any doubt remains about the dangers of this bacteria and its ability to seriously impact the combat sports community, rewind back to TUF season 4 where nearly half of the participants were infected one after another. While the simple measures mentioned above will completely eradicate Staph, it will certainly serve to decrease the number and severity of cases that occur.