Athletes are at increased risk for numerous infections. High school, collegiate and Olympic athletes who travel and live in close contact environments are at an even higher risk. Infections and their effects—such as fever and fatigue—can adversely affect athletic performance by weakening muscles, decreasing blood flow to the body and predisposing those affected to other injuries. Up to 50 percent of high school and college training room visits are due to infectious diseases.1 With more than 7.6 million high students participating in organized sports during the 2010-11 school year2, education on disease prevention and sports hygiene is critical to keeping young athletes safe and healthy.
Infections can be spread through respiratory secretions, blood or via skin contact. Some infections can be avoided or prevented by receiving immunizations. Immunizations are an example of primary prevention, which aims to prevent the development of the disease before infection even occurs3. Below, I briefly discuss two important immunizations for young athletes.
Caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitides, it's an infection of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord, called the meninges. Transmission is by respiratory and oral secretions. Those at increased risk are infants, adolescents, and young adults (16 to 21 years) and those living in a community setting, such as college dormitories and military barracks. Studies have shown that those living in college dorms have a nine to 23 percent increased risk for this disease.4
Sudden fever, headache, neck stiffness, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light, confusion. This is a medical emergency. If not treated immediately, it causes permanent neurologic damage, limb loss and even death.
Receive the meningococcal vaccine. It's required in all 11- to 12-year-olds with booster at age 16. All college freshmen living in dormitories should receive the vaccine as well.
Sports hygiene also plays an important role in preventing disease, and proper hygiene can help reduce the spread of bacteria. Most skin infections are caused by staphylococcus aureus. A more potent bacterium in the same family, called CA-MRSA, is now particularly prevalent in the sports community. It is known to be more dangerous and difficult to manage and treat than its counterpart. Infections among athletes are commonly acquired by:
Because infections are easily acquired in these circumstances, a suspected abscess or cellulitis should be reported to a coach or athletic trainer immediately.
Fungal infections such as athlete's foot (tinea pedis), jock itch (tinea cruris) and ring worm (tinea corporis) are common ailments among athletes year round. Here are some tips for prevention:
With these disease prevention tips in mind, I hope everyone who reads this article has a fun and healthy athletic season!
1. Christopher A. McGrew, "Acute infections." In Douglas B. McKeag and James L. Moeller, Eds., ACSM's Primary Care Sports Medicine. Wolters Kluwer, 2007, pp. 251-60.
2. Jason Koebler, "High School Sports Participation Increases for 22nd Straight Year," U.S. News & World Report, Sept. 2, 2011.
3. Luke A, d'Hemecourt P., "Prevention of Infectious Diseases in Athletes." Clin Sports Med 2007, pp. 321-344.
4. Bilukha OO, Rosenstein N., "Prevention and Control of Meningococcal Disease: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)." MMWR Recomm Rep, 2005;54(RR-7): 1-21.
5. Prevention and Control of Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), MMWR 2010 Aug 6;59(RR08):1-62