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MRSA spreads to college campuses

A new strain of staph infections that can lead to lengthy hospital stays and even death is occurring outside of hospitals and becoming prevalent among athletes, and it's prompting colleges and universities to alert their student-athletes.

During the mandatory eligibility meetings for student-athletes at Mills, athletic trainer Bridget Mansell warned all athletes about the dangers of MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus). "It's gross stuff, it's scary, but if we can educate you hopefully we can show you it's real and how to prevent it," said Mansell.

WebMD describes MRSA as a new strain of aureus, or staph, the bacteria that naturally lives on your skin, which is resistant to all but one antibiotic. The infection is spread from close skin-to-skin contact, the sharing of athletic equipment, and through other items that contact skin such as razors or towels.

Doctors worry about using the one antibiotic proven to work against MRSA for fear that the bacteria will mutate and become resistant to that as well, according to Mansell.

According to WebMD, staph infections have increased in recent years, usually occurring in hospital patients or people who have recently had surgery. MRSA is one of the most dangerous of these infections because of its resistant qualities. Now, MRSA has moved out of hospitals and into the community, mainly affecting athletes, prisoners and people with weak immune systems.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has become increasingly concerned about MRSA among athletes in close contact sports; last year both the University of Southern California and UC Berkeley football teams reported infections.

This year, the NCAA has increased MRSA education, attempting to make all athletes aware of the risks. "The athletic training community has been really proactive in trying to prevent these infections," said Mansell. The eligibility meetings for athletes included a section on proper hygiene and use of athletic equipment to help prevent MRSA at Mills.

"It's important for people to be cognizant of the health risks involved. If they follow the procedures Bridget outlined, it's not something people should be freaking out about," said senior Jenny Torkildson, a member of the Mills tennis team.

To prevent MRSA, the NCAA says not to share items that touch the skin and practice good hygiene.