(HealthDay News) -- A new U.S. survey found that more than half of athletic trainers said they've treated an athlete for a skin infection caused by the antibiotic-resistant "superbug" called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria.
MRSA infections were once seen almost exclusively in ill and immunocompromised hospital patients, but they have become increasingly common in otherwise healthy people over the past decade, according to background information in a news release about the survey.
While MRSA infections typically aren't fatal, they can cause skin abscesses that require surgical draining, and the infections are likely to be resistant to first-line antibiotics. In some cases, MRSA can cause serious and potentially fatal problems such as pneumonia, bloodstream infections and flesh-eating disease.
This Web-based survey of 364 certified athletic trainers found that 53 percent said they'd treated MRSA skin infections in athletes. Of the infections treated: 86 percent were in males and 35 percent were in females; 65 percent were in football players; 21 percent in basketball players; and 20 percent were in wrestlers.
The infections typically occurred in: the lower leg (38 percent); forearm (31 percent); and the knee (29 percent).
Athletes may be at increased risk for MRSA infection because it can be spread into cuts and scrapes during contact sports, as well as from shared items such as towels.
"Given that these infections could potentially become serious, it's important for athletic trainers to be aware of the signs and symptoms of MRSA infections and to treat them appropriately, as well as educate athletes about them," Kristin Brinsley-Rainisch, a health scientist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a prepared statement.
The survey was presented Saturday at the annual scientific session of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America in Baltimore.