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Monday, October 22, 2007

Should MRSA concern us?

As a mountain biker I frequently and proudly sport the many scratches, bumps and bruises that occur during the rigors of trail riding; so it's common for my forearms and shins to be scratched as well as numerous cuts and bruises decorating them; but could I be exposing myself to a deadly bacterial infection so severe that it's known as the 'flesh eating disease' and is capable of destroying skin, muscle and even lead to lost limbs or death?

There's been a lot of talk of MSRA lately after it's shown up in some local schools , and I just got done reading this terrifying ABC news story about MSRA, a skin infection so severe that it can destroy skin, muscle and lead to lost limbs or death; it is also known as the 'super bug' and 'flesh eating disease'.

So exactly what is it? MSRA is serious staph infection highly resistant to antibiotics. Staph infections, usually associated with post surgery complications, is more frequently occurring in the form of skin infections outside of any medical environment.

So how do you contract it? Either directly from person to person or from an object or area contaminated by the infected. In addition MSRA typically needs an opportunity to take hold; like an opening in the skin, something very typical for Mountain Bikers that like to ride hard.

As I read the article I began examining the many cuts and abrasions doled out to me during last month's Month of Mud race series. Does my sport put me at significantly greater risk? So with a little research I uncovered a few things and it certainly raised my concern:

From the Center For Disease Control Web Site:

Are certain people at increased risk for community-associated staph or MRSA infections?

CDC has investigated clusters of CA-MRSA skin infections among athletes, military recruits, children, prisonors... factors that have been associated with the spread of MRSA skin infections include: close skin-to-skin contact, openings in the skin such as cuts or abrasions, contaminated items ...

How common are staph and MRSA infections?

The majority of MRSA infections occur among patients in hospitals or other healthcare settings; however, it is becoming more common in the community setting. Data from a prospective study in 2003, suggests that 12% of clinical MRSA infections are community-associated, but this varies by geographic region and population.

Can I get a staph or MRSA infection at my health club?

In the outbreaks of MRSA, the environment has not played a significant role in the transmission of MRSA. MRSA is transmitted most frequently by direct skin-to-skin contact. You can protect yourself from infections by practicing good hygiene (e.g., keeping your hands clean by washing with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand rub and showering after working out); covering any open skin area such as abrasions or cuts with a clean dry bandages.

So what have we learned? Well typically if you do a lot of your riding in emergency rooms, hospitals or health care facilities, be aware you are at serious risk of contracting an MSRA infection.

As for the rest of us:

1) MSRA infections typically don't originate from sliding around in the dirt.

For Mountain Bikers this is good news! Because MRSA is most commonly spread through skin to skin contact, topping off your wound with mud and trail dirt isn't predisposing you, but because a dirty wound won't heal as fast, getting it cleaned up and covered reduces your risk.

2) Our cuts and scratches, typically to the forearms may put us at risk.

This is bad news. We typically touch our forearms with our hands that often make contact with others and bare forearms also brush up against others. These briar and undergrowth lashing could provide an opening for MRSA.

3) Don't pick your scabs.

Just like your mother told you, don't pick your scabs! Picking at that itchy scab with dirty MRSA contaminated hands may not be good idea (Seriously) and this is not just my own deduction; Dr Ripple of DePauw University agrees.

Ok I'm no medical expert and these are simply my own conclusions, so take them for what it's worth. Now that I've made you feel adequately gross and uncomfortable; go wash hands! And don't forget to use a clean towel.


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