Preventing Skin Infections in Athletes August 22, 2016 09:00

Skin infections are a leading cause of missed competition. Skin-related infections account for nearly 10 percent of high school sports-related health conditions or injuries in athletes. The number jumps to 20 percent for college-level athletes.

Sports-related skin infections have a variety of causes, including bacteria, viruses and fungi. Most of these infections spread through skin-to-skin contact, poor hygiene or shared equipment or towels. Caring for athletes should include recognizing and evaluating these conditions to prevent the spread of infections between competitors.

How do skin infections spread?

Maintain clean facilities.Skin-to-skin contact
Athlete A develops a skin infection, then spreads the infection to Athlete B through skin-to-skin contact. Athlete B may now be colonized and remain asymptomatic or develop an infection.

Equipment and environment
Athlete A may indirectly transfer infectious material to Athlete B. Common exposure paths include clothing, equipment, such as a weight machine, or a shared surface, such as a training table or wrestling mat.

Preventing skin infections

  • Practice good hygiene, including frequent hand washing and showering after every sports activity.
  • Discourage athletes from sharing towels, gear, water bottles, razors or hair clippers.
  • Worn clothing should be laundered or disinfected daily.
  • Encourage athletes to complete a daily skin survey and report any suspicious lesions for treatment.

Products aimed at preventing infections in athletes include:  

  • Products for turf or field
  • Locker room antimicrobial solutions
  • Light-based germicidal products

While these products may be effective, none are proven to be more effective than standard cleaning practices. The CDC recommends:

  • Routine laundry practices
  • Daily cleaning of surfaces that contact bare skin, such as benches or shared equipment. Clean those surfaces with a detergent-based cleaner or EPA-registered disinfectant and allow them to dry completely.
  • Equipment with damaged surfaces that interfere with cleaning should be repaired or thrown out.

There is no evidence that spraying or fogging rooms or surfaces with disinfectants prevent MRSA infections more effectively than the targeted approach of cleaning frequently touched surfaces.