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‘Sharing isn’t caring’ – health body warns athletes of infection risks

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Sports participants, particularly rugby players, have been warned that poor dressing room hygiene and excessive sharing of toiletries could lead to serious skin infections spreading through their team.

Public Health England (PHE) experts have said that the practice of sharing towels, razors or even ice baths – reportedly common in some dressing rooms – may present untold risks.

A case study being presented at PHE’s annual conference this week outlines an investigation at a Midlands rugby club, where the PVL-MSSA bug was found to have spread between players, giving rise to boils, abscesses and carbuncles. If left untreated, serious cases of the infection can lead to life-threatening illness and cause skin and tissues to die.

Having screened approximately 60 club members between August 2013 and February 2014, PHE investigators set about determining what was causing the disease to spread, given that tests revealed an identical strain of bacteria was responsible for all four infections.

A survey of the players’ dressing room hygiene habits threw up a number of “high-risk practices,” which experts have identified as possible causes of the bug spreading.

Almost 20 per cent said they shared towels regularly, with 10 per cent admitting to sharing razors and 5 per cent sharing clothes, despite almost a third saying they had suffered skin conditions in the last year.

“The investigation identified a number of high-risk practices among the players which increase their chances of getting an infection, such as sharing towels and razors, and sharing ice baths with their fellow team members,” said Dr Deepti Kumar, a consultant in Communicable Disease Control at PHE.

“We would urge any sportsperson who plays a sport where cuts and grazes are commonplace to practice good hygiene and not share any item with fellow team members to reduce their risk of developing an infection.”

PHE figures show there are between 1,200 and 1,500 cases of PVL-MSSA nationally each year. Treatment involves antibiotics, surgical drainage of any abscesses and more extensive hospital care for serious cases.

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Sports participants, particularly rugby players, have been warned that poor dressing room hygiene and excessive sharing of toiletries could lead to serious skin infections spreading through their team.
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