Staph Infections Go Beyond NFL

By Alex Marvez

NFL players aren't the only athletes who have been afflicted with staph infections in recent years. Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Alex Rios had a standout 2006 season derailed when he contracted staph from what he believes was a bruise caused by fouling a baseball off his foot. Phoenix Suns forward Grant Hill's recovery from severe ankle problems was slowed after he was infected following one of his four surgeries. And the infection even proved fatal for a Division III football player in 2003, as wide receiver/kicker returner Ricky Lannetti of Lycoming College died after contracting an extremely strong form of staph known as MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).

Staph also is affecting the world of mixed martial arts fighting, where an epidemic has sidelined several competitors who train under the renowned Pat Miletich in Iowa. Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Drew McFedries will reportedly be sidelined for the next six-to-eight months, while Spencer Fisher was forced to withdraw from the UFC Fight Night 11 special Sept. 19 on Spike TV emanating from Las Vegas. Heavyweight Ben Rothwell said former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia and Miletich trainer/fighter Steve Rusk also were affected.

MMA fighters seem particularly susceptible to staph because of the close physical contact inherent in training. The bacteria attacks open wounds and can cause boils, blisters, fever, illness and even death.

Rothwell, a member of Militech's renowned International Fight League team, said a previous knowledge of staph made him realize how potentially dangerous the initial infection suffered by McFedries and Rusk could be. Rothwell said he told Miletich, Rusk and McFedries about the best way to treat staph but the latter didn't follow his advice, leading to a recurrence of the infection. Rothwell said McFedries is suffering from the effects of a much stronger form of staph known as MRSA."I worked with Steve and he did fine," Rothwell said Thursday in a telephone interview. "Drew did whatever because he didn't have insurance or something. A doctor just gave him basic antibiotics and the (MRSA) came back."

Rothwell said the staph problem at Miletich's camp in Bettendorf, Iowa is now under control. That's good news for the Miletich-coached Quad City Silverbacks MMA squad, which will be attempting to win its second consecutive IFL team championship Sept. 20 in the league finals against the New York Pitbulls in Hollywood, Fla. The final will air on September 23 on Fox Sports Net.

"You can have brand new gym equipment, but if one guy comes in that is infected, people are going to get it," said Rothwell, who will be facing New York's Bryan Vettel in the IFL team finals. "The problem is you can have no signs of infection, but if you've got it in your nose, it can lead to an infection. It's really bad (stuff)."