Preventing Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) Infections in Athletes

Key points

  • MRSA skin infections can spread among athletes due to close contact and shared personal items and facilities.
  • Learn practical prevention steps to reduce the risk of MRSA and protect athletes.


MRSA is a type of bacteria that can be resistant to several antibiotics. In athletic settings, MRSA can spread due to close contact and shared personal items and facilities. Preventing MRSA infections is crucial to the health and safety of athletes.

How it spreads

MRSA might spread more easily among athletes because they:

  • Have repeated skin-to-skin contact.
  • May have cuts and abrasions that if left uncovered may allow MRSA to enter and cause infection.
  • Share items and surfaces that come into direct skin contact.
  • Are sometimes not able to shower or wash hands after exercise or after using shared equipment.

Risk factors

Skin infections, including MRSA, are most reported among athletes in sports with a lot of physical contact. This includes wrestling, football and rugby. However, there are reports of MRSA infections among athletes in other sports such as soccer, basketball, field hockey, volleyball, rowing, martial arts, fencing and baseball.

Even though some sports involve small amounts of physical contact, MRSA might spread before or after the activity. Anyone participating in sports should be aware of the signs of skin infections and follow prevention measures.

Who is at risk

While athletes who play contact sports are most affected, anyone in an athletic environment can be at risk for MRSA.

What to look out for

Be vigilant for signs of skin infections. Get care early to reduce lost playing time and prevent severe infection.

  • Look for signs of skin infection such as:
    • Pain at sites where your skin has sores, abrasions or cuts. Sometimes you can confuse these infections with spider bites.
    • Pus.
    • Redness.
    • Swelling.
    • Warmth (area is warm to touch).
  • Look for infection in places covered by body hair or where uniforms or equipment cause skin irritation or increased rubbing.

See a healthcare provider immediately if you think you may have an infection. In most cases it is hard to tell if an infection is due to MRSA or another type of bacteria without laboratory tests that your healthcare provider can order.

Prevention steps and strategies

Preventing MRSA transmission is essential to maintain a safe and healthy environment for all athletes and to ensure that everyone can participate in sports without the risk of infection.

To minimize the spread of MRSA in sports environments, athletes and visitors to athletic facilities should:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
    • Soap and water are preferred if hands are visibly soiled.
  • Clean hands before and after playing sports and doing activities such as:
    • Using shared weight-training equipment.
    • Caring for wounds.
    • Using the toilet.
  • Shower immediately after exercise, and do not share bar soap or towels.
  • Wash your uniform, towels and clothing after each use:
    • Follow the clothing label's instructions for washing and drying.
    • Dry clothes completely in a dryer.
    • Clean your hands after touching dirty clothes.
  • Wear protective clothing or gear to prevent skin injuries.
  • Do not share items that contact your skin, such as:
    • Towels.
    • Washcloths.
    • Razors.
    • Clothing, including uniforms.
    • Ointments from open containers.
  • Cover cuts and wounds with clean, dry bandages until healed.
    • Pus from infected wounds can contain MRSA.
    • Follow healthcare provider instructions for wound care and bandage changes.
    • Throw away bandages and tape with the regular trash.
    • Wash your hands after changing the bandage or touching the infected wound.
  • Do not try to treat the infection yourself.
  • Do not pick or pop the sore.
  • Use a barrier (such as clothing or a towel) between your skin and shared surfaces such as:
    • Sauna and steam-room benches.
    • Weight-training equipment.
  • If you have an active infection or open wound, do not use public water facilities that aren't cleaned between uses. This includes whirlpools, therapy pools and swimming pools.


If an infection is suspected or confirmed, it is important to seek medical advice for appropriate treatment. MRSA infections often require specific antibiotics and proper wound care. Early treatment can prevent more serious complications.


Report any suspected skin infections to a parent, coach, athletic trainer, team doctor or healthcare provider immediately.