Hockey’s biggest pest is not Sean Avery. Fans and players alike are familiar with the risk of physical injury from high sticks and hip checks but the bacterial strain methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus(MRSA) packs a far more lethal punch than Zdeno Chara’s right hook.
MRSA(pronounced mer-sa) is a form of bacteria that is highly resistant to traditional antibiotics; it first emerged in hospitals during the 1960s. The version that occurs outside of hospitals is known as community-acquired MRSA(CA-MRSA) and it became a frequent visitor to dressing rooms in the late 1990s. In 1999 it was responsible for the deaths of four previously healthy children in North Dakota and Minnesota.
Amateur athletes can be considered at higher risk of contracting MRSA than the pros due to less stringent sanitary measures in local rinks or stadiums. That’s not a knock against the caretakers, merely acknowledging the staff at places such as the Air Canada Centre have higher budgets and more resources with which to minimise the risk.
That doesn’t entirely eliminate the risk. Professional athletes including NHLers Mikael Renberg, Joe Thornton, and Ed Belfour have required hospital stays due to MRSA. Renberg’s case, triggered by a skate blade cutting his skin, was particularly nasty with his hand swelling to the size of a boxing glove. His doctors seriously considered amputation before the infection relented its grip. Death was indeed a possibility. An unfortunate few such as Lycoming College football player Ricky Lannetti have died from MRSA.
Treatment is difficult not only due to the bacteria’s drug resistance and constant evolution, but also due to lack of information. Most people are stunned to learn that more Americans died of MRSA than HIV-AIDS in 1995.
But don’t pull little Parker and Posey out of house league just yet. Prevention is possible. Luckily the most effective way to keep MRSA, and other illnesses at bay is also the simplest and most cost effective – hand washing with soap and the hottest water you can tolerate.
Another option for those times when the arena taps run colder than the ice you've skated on is Hockey Hands. This product is a heavy duty hand sanitizer, similar to the familiar little bottles such as Purell. The main ingredients are rubbing alcohol, tea tree oil, and mint.
That’s great for hands but who washes their gear thoroughly after every game or practice? Usually it gets tossed into a hockey bag and stays in the trunk until next time. A Mississauga entrepreneur, Sam Mauro of Core Marketing Solutions has come up with a twist on the traditional hockey bag. According to Mauro, his product, The Hockey Hangup reduces the risk of MRSA. The built-in hanger allows it to hang on dressing room hooks instead of germ-infested floors. It is 85% mesh so the equipment dries in the bag, avoiding the hassle of removing and hanging individual items. Mauro admits Hockey Hangup is not a cure but after playing hockey his entire life and dealing with hockey bag hazards, he created the product. “I want people to need the bag, not want the bag.” The time and money spent is heavy – each prototype cost $650.00 and takes two months. Mauro is not discouraged; he views his work as a way to make his hockey mark.