Super Bowl 2009: NFL Players and Staph Infections

January 28, 2009
by Vicki Rackner MD, Seattle Doctor- Patient Examiner

Defense is a critical strategy for NFL players who got to Super Bowl 2009. That's defense against bacterial infections.

Peyton Manning and Tom Brady didn't perform this year as expected. Their major problem was not a weak offensive line, but rather failure of their defensive immune systems to protect them from infections. These two high-profile stars join the growing number of NFL players who fall victim to serious Staph aureus bacterial infections.

Every time NFL players take to the field, they risk infection. Staph aureus is a common bacteria. You may have some on your keyboard and your hands right now. Your skin is like your own personal border patrol that protects you against bacterial invaders; however, a break in your skin lets the bacteria slip in and set up an infection. NFL players often sustain cuts, abrasions and turf burns.

Usually your immune system, with some help from antibiotics can contain the infection. Sometimes, though, the bacteria spread beyond the local boil and infect the whole body. The bacteria's ability to do some genetic reshuffling makes local infections harder to treat. Who has not heard of the dangers of MRSA infections caused by staph that have acquired resistance to the best antibiotics we doctors have. Young, healthy people die of overwhelming bacterial infection., including a 20-year-old Brazilian model who made the news this week..

MRSA infections are newsworthy. You might remember the MRSA infections in 5 of 58 St Louis Rams players in 2003. A staph infection ended Jack Snow's career and ultimately took his life.

The athletes who avoid steroid use give themselves a leg up in protecting their health. Steroids impair the ability of the immune system to fight off infection.