Welcome to Stay in the Game, a monthly blog where the team from The Queen's Health Systems share the latest tips on the treatment and prevention of sports injuries. We want to help you play hard and be well - a winning combination that will keep you in the game all season long.

How to prevent skin infections in athletes

Athletes of all kinds are prone to skin infections, from athlete's foot to MRSA. Dr. Jill Inouye, Primary Care Sports Medicine Physician at The Queen's Center for Sports Medicine, shares what steps can be taken to prevent skin infections in athletes.

Question 1: What are common skin infections in athletes?

Dr. Inouye: The common skin infections seen in athletes are bacterial infections, fungal infections, and herpes simplex.  

Bacterial infections include impetigo and MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).  MRSA is particularly concerning because this bacteria may not respond to certain antibiotics and can be difficult to treat.  

Fungal infections include ringworms, athlete's foot, jock itch, and yeast infections.  

Question 2: What increases an athlete's risk for skin infection?

Dr. Inouye: The following can increase an athlete's risk for skin infections:

• Trauma to the skin
• Open wounds
• Frequent skin to skin contact
• Sharing potentially contaminated items or equipment
• Frequent exposure to antimicrobial agents
• Crowding
• Challenges to personal hygiene
• Limited health care access

Question 3: How can skin infections be treated?

Dr. Inouye: Depending on the type of infection, some athletes should be held from practice and competition until they are cleared after receiving proper treatment. Treatment can include antibiotics, antifungal medications, and antiviral medications.  

If left untreated, some infections can progress to abscesses, which are collections of pus in the skin.

Question 4: How can skin infections be prevented?

Dr. Inouye: Good hygiene is key to preventing skin infection in athletes.

Athletes should:

• Practice proper hand washing with soap and water, or use an alcohol based sanitizer
• Shower immediately after activities
• Wash personal gym bags and equipment regularly
• Cover skin lesions properly and wash hands before and after changing bandages

Athletes should not:

• Use whirlpools or common tubs, especially if they have an open wound
• Share towels, razors, and daily athletic gear

Athletic facilities should:

• Ensure the availability of soap and water
• Provide pump soap dispensers instead of bar soaps
• Maintain clean facilities and equipment, which may require routine cleaning schedules

The Queen's Center for Sports Medicine provides comprehensive care for the treatment and prevention of sports injuries and conditions. If you know an athlete who may be developing or has a skin infection, encourage them to call 808-691-4449 or log on to Queen's Center for Sports Medicine.

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