New York: College athletes who play football, soccer and other contact sports are more likely to carry the superbug methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), suggests a study.
Contact sport athletes were more than twice as likely as non-contact athletes to be colonised with MRSA, meaning they carried the bug on their bodies, usually in their noses and throats, the findings showed.
This puts them at higher risk for infection and increases the likelihood of spreading the bug which can cause serious and even fatal infections.
"The findings show that even outside of a full-scale outbreak when athletes are healthy and there are no infections, there are still a substantial number of them who are colonized with these potentially harmful bacteria," said Natalia Jimenez-Truque, research instructor at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre in Tennessee.
The study followed 377 male and female Vanderbilt University varsity athletes playing 14 different sports, including 224 who played contact sports such as football, soccer, basketball and lacrosse.
Each athlete had monthly nasal and throat swabs over the course of two academic years.
Throughout the two-year study, colonisation with MRSA ranged from eight to 31 percent in contact sports athletes, compared to 0 to 23 percent of non-contact athletes.
"Sports teams can decrease the spread of MRSA by encouraging good hygiene in their athletes, including frequent hand washing and avoiding sharing towels and personal items such as soap and razors," researchers noted.
The study is the first to observe college athletes who are not part of a larger MRSA outbreak.
MRSA is a leading cause of skin and soft tissue infections, which often heal on their own or are easily treated.
But the invasive form of MRSA can cause pneumonia and infections of the blood, heart, bone, joints and central nervous system.