September 1, 2007 Microbiologists have devised an anti-microbial coating to protect athletes from potentially deadly infections. When applied to a surface, the coating bonds to it, then inhibits growth of bacteria, fungi, mold, and viruses. The coating can be applied to surfaces in locker rooms, equipment, and athletic fields.
More than 130,000 Americans contract a potentially fatal staph infection called MRSA every year. It's increasingly common among young, healthy athletes. Now, a new high-tech system could put an end to bacteria lurking in the locker room.
Antibiotics work for some, but many MRSA strains are resistant to drugs.
"If it spreads into your system, it can go from your skin level into the tissue, into the organ level and it can actually kill you," said Rod Walters, athletic trainer from the University of South Carolina.
MRSA spreads through skin contact, clothing and even showers, putting athletes in close quarters at high risk. "We're not trying to create a crisis or a fear among the people, but hey, if it's there, we have to deal with it," Walters said.
A new anti-microbial system offers a promising solution. The Sports Aide spray-on system instantly bonds to surfaces in locker rooms, weight rooms, training rooms and even bathrooms.
"There is a puncture of the cell membrane and within that wound, there is a nitrogen atom that electrocutes, to finally, totally eliminate that bacteria," said Craig Andrews, CEO of the Coating Specialists Group.
It destroys bacteria, so it's impossible for it to become resistant. The system works 24/7 on treated areas for up to three years, letting athletes focus on competitors on the field, not in the locker room.
More than 100 sports complexes from professional to high school teams around the country have been treated with the Sports Aide system. The company also manufactures fabric softener that athletes and parents can use to keep uniforms bacteria-free for up to 30 washes.
The American Society for Microbiology contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.
BACKGROUND: The University of South Carolina is applying high-tech, proactive measures to combat the spread of bacterial infections throughout its athletic complex. One is the use of a unique SportsAide system, a patented non-leaching microtechnology that creates a durable, antimicrobial bond on sports surfaces and controls the growth of a wide array of bacteria, mold, fungi and algae.
ABOUT MRSA: A microbe called methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a common cause of skin infections; it can also cause pneumonia, ear infections and sinusitis. Such infections were once relegated to hospitals and prisons; patients with deep wounds and IV catheters, for example were at particular risk of infection. However, now athletes are in such close contact with one another and share Jacuzzis, whirlpools and athletic equipment that staph is proliferating in locker rooms at all levels of sports. MRSA bacteria are sometimes dubbed 'superbugs' because they are highly resistant to common antibiotics like penicillin, making infections difficult to treat effectively. Bacteria are highly adaptive, and over time they naturally develop resistance, protecting them from incoming germs (and antibiotics) and making them harder to kill.
HOW INFECTION SPREADS: In many cases, the infection is spread through person-to-person contact, sports surfaces also play a role in transmission. An infected player might think he only has a spider bite and will use a towel, treadmill, or whirlpool. The staph is transferred onto the surface and infects the next athlete to use the equipment, entering the body through a bruise or small cut. Staph bacteria can survive at least one day on all fabrics and plastics, as long as 56 days on polyester, and as log as 90 days on polyethylene plastic.
HOW ANTIBIOTICS WORK: Infections are caused by single-celled organisms called bacteria, which can sometimes evade the body's immune system and begin reproducing. Antibiotics kill those harmful bacteria in various ways, such as preventing a bacterium from turning glucose into energy, or preventing it from construct a cell wall. The bacteria die instead of reproducing. Antibiotics are like selective poisons, because they target bacteria and not the bodys own cells. They are not effective against viruses, however. Unlike bacteria, a virus isn't a living, reproducing lifeform, just a piece of DNA or RNA. A virus injects its DNA into a living cell and the cell itself reproduces more of the viral DNA. There is nothing to 'kill', so antibiotics donýt work on viruses.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.