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A New Scary Germ Part 2

MRSA: Recogniton and Prevention

By Christopher Caile

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two part series on MRSA. Part 1 introduced the subject and its dangers. Part 2 discusses the recogniton and prevention of MRSA -- what to look for, how it spreads and how to protect yourself.

MRSA, introduced in Part 1 of this series, should not be taken lightly. One reader e-mailed me and said, “MRSA is nothing to ignore. I am a staff nurse in … the busiest veterans hospital in the United States. MRSA is one of our most serious in house problems. The number of people walking around colonized with this potentially lethal bug is unbelievable.”

A staph infection of the leg. MRSA infections can cause rashes or boils that can leak pus or have drainage. Do not try to lance or pop it yourself. Instead seek help from you physician such as your family medicine physician, or a surgeon for best results.

Staph bacteria, including MRSA, can cause skin infections that may look like a pimple or boil and can be red, swollen, painful, or have pus or other drainage. More serious infections may cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections, or surgical wound infections.

We carry the germs from our own noses and have staph and often MRSA on our skin. And once you're colonized, it's almost impossible to eradicate. But, this is not dangerous in itself. We carry around a virtual rain forest of bacteria, viruses, fungus and contaminates mixed with body waxes and oils around on our skin. It is only when staph or MRSA breaks into the skin or into the system that real danger arises.

Martial artists should also be especially alert because their practice environment is optimal for the spread of MRSA. This includes practitioners of judo, karate, taekwondo, kung fu, mixed martial arts, even wrestlers. In fact the danger to martial artists from MRSA might be even greater than from the physical dangers from the art they practice.

How MRSA Is Spread

MRSA is almost always spread by direct physical contact – by contact with those infected (even from those having bacteria on their skin) – not through the air. Thus skin-to-skin contact (in wrestling, judo, jujutsu, aikido, kung fu and karate, etc.) can be a method of contacting the bug.

A staph or MRSA break out under the arm.

MRSA can be spread indirectly too, by touching objects, clothing, surfaces or equipment that is contaminated with the bacteria. This can include shared towels, razors, uniforms, protective equipment, shared sporting equipment such as weight lifting machines, or mats.

The bacteria can live on various surfaces, such as up to 72 hours on stainless steel surfaces at room temperature. It also thrives in warm, moist environments such as towels, exercise clothes, uniforms, practice mats or equipment.

This is why schools, hospitals, prisons and other institutions across the nation have been actively cleansing and disinfecting their facilities.

You are especially vulnerable if your immune system is damaged or low due to illness or surgery.

A New York Internist noted that those with chronic skin conditions such as eczema, are also especially vulnerable since their skin condition offers ready access to infection. He also noted that today people use razors on their chests, head, arms or legs, even their genitals area. “Just a little nick in the skin can provide an opening for infection,” he said.

“I see patients all the time,” say Dr. Sandra Sattin, a Maryland specialist in family medicine, “who think they have just a small spider bite, but more often than not it is a staph infection. Staph or the MRSA variant often gets into a hair follicle. If standard treatment doesn’t work, it may be an indication of MRSA and if it isn’t treated promptly it can spread.”

MRSA Symptoms

The MRSA staph variant usually involves skin eruptions, such as a red or purplish boil, a red outbreak similar to a small bite, pimple, or what looks like a bumpy rash. These infections can be red, swollen. There may be warmth around the infected area and there can be pus or other drainage.. The infected area can be painful. Often there is also a fever, or chills.

These general skin symptoms may be accompanied by fever and warmth around the inflected area.

More serious infections can cause brain abscesses, destroy bone in the vertebrae and infect the valves in the heart and destroy them if not caught in time.

I knew a karate practitioner who contracted a staph infection of his vertebrae and excruciating back pain. It took nine months in a hospital on IV antibiotics to kick the infection.

MRSA Prevention

Protect yourself from infections by practicing good hygiene. An alcohol gels work better than hand washing because we usually don't thoroughly wash our hands. Spending several minutes washing including scrubbing your nails with a germicidal agent, would be best, but is not pragmatic so use a gel if possible. . Carry your own gel or ask your health club or martial arts facility to make these products available.

Also, shower after working out and wear flip flops, but showering too often can have a negative effect. Over-washing can rinse away the protective oils and waxes secreted by the skin that help create a natural barrier to infection.

Wash your uniform and towel between practices and don’t share them with others – moist warm items like these can be breeding grounds. Also, regularly clean any protective or other athletic equipment.

If you see any blood, or possible body secretion on any equipment, floor or other surface be sure that it is cleaned (use protective gloves) and disenfected immediately.

Most important cover any open skin outbreak, abrasions or cut with a clean dry bandage and insist that any work out partner do so before practicing. If someone you are practicing with has a wound or skin condition that is oozing pus, it would be advisable to avoid all contact. At minimum have the condition cleansed and covered with a bandage to prevent any leakage.

If you get an abrasion, small skin cut, or a puncture, says Dr. Sattin, wash the area thoroughly and then apply a triple antibiotic ointment before applying a bandage. “A little prevention goes a long way.”

Other preventative measures include avoiding the sharing of personal items such as towels, uniforms, protective equipment, or razors.

If there is exercise or training equipment that must be shared take precautions. Wipe surfaces and/or use a barrier (clothes or a towel) between your skin and the equipment used. This is especially true with striking surfaces like punching bags and makiwara (use protective mitts).

Wear protective equipment on your hands or feet if you are in a striking art. Prompt your club or organization to sanitize practice surfaces including floors and mats as often as possible.

Know the signs of MRSA and other staph infections so you can avoid infection of other students, so you can alert students of possible infection and guide them to appropriate medical specialists for diagnosis and treatment.

Staph And MRSA Treatment

If you have a suspected infection see your health care provider.

Most staph and MRSA infections are treatable with the certain antibiotics. But monitor the condition. If the medicine prescribed does not seem to be taking effect, be sure to contact your physician for follow up. When recently I had a toe infection my New York City Internist prescribed a general antibiotic but said to monitor the situation. ”If it doesn’t clear up in a couple of days, come back to see me,” he said. “It could be something else.”

Be sure to follow directions. If given an antibiotic, take all of the prescribed doses, even if the infection is getting better.

Many staph skin infections, including MRSA, however, are in part treated by draining the abscess or boil. Some may not even require antibiotics. But do not try this yourself. Drainage of skin boils or abscesses should only be done by a professional health provider.

Also, if others you live or practice with get the same infection, tell them also to contact their health care provider.

Disclaimer: This article is written for educational purposes only and should not be taken as a definitive medical statement or definition of MRSA or staph, their dangers, symptoms, diagnoses or treatment. This article seeks only to raise the reader’s awareness about the potential dangers of MRSA and staph within the martial arts environment and stimulate the reader’s own research into and awareness about these potential problems.

Acknowledgment:

The photos in this article was provided by www.metrowestcleangear.com. MetroWest CleanGear offers an effective new way to clean, disinfect and deodorize athletic equipment and gear (including MRSA) processed by their cleaning facilities without damage.


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About The Author:

Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of FightingArts.com. He has been a student of the martial arts for over 50 years and a teacher of karate since 1962. He is the author of over 300 articles and columns on the martial arts and editor of several martial arts books. Over the last 20 years he has conducts seminars on street self-defense to community and student groups in both the United States and Canada. His seminars topics also include his specialty areas of kata applications and joint locks and other jujutsu-like techniques found within karate. Caile started his martial arts career in judo. Then he added karate as a student of Phil Koeppel in 1959. Caile introduced karate to Finland in 1960 and then hitch-hiked eastward. In Japan (1961) he studied under Mas Oyama and later in the US became a Kyokushinkai Branch Chief. In 1976 he followed Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura when he formed Seido karate and is now a 6th degree black belt (Sei Shihan) in that organization's honbu dojo (NYC). He is also Sensei in Wadokai Aikido under Roy Suenaka Sensei. Other experience includes diato-ryu aikijujutsu, Hakuho-Ryu Aiki-jujutsu, kenjutsu, kobudo, Shinto Muso-ryu jodo, kobudo, boxing and several Chinese fighting arts including Praying Mantis, Pak Mei (White Eyebrow), Wing Chun, Chin Na and Shuai Chiao. He is also a student of Zen. A long-term student of one branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qigong, he is a personal disciple of the qi gong master and teacher of acupuncture Dr. Zaiwen Shen (M.D., Ph.D.). He holds an M.A. in International Relations from American University in Washington D.C. and has traveled extensively through South and Southeast Asia. He frequently returns to Japan and Okinawa to continue his studies in the martial arts, their history and tradition. In his professional life he has been a businessman, newspaper journalist, inventor and entrepreneur.


To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

staph,Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, health and martial arts


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