Methacillin resistant staphlococcus aureus (MRSA) is a deadly bacterium that is becoming more and more common inside and outside the hospital setting. No one is immune, not even babies like this one who died from an unknown exposure.
Seven-time NBA All-Star Grant Hill has also experienced the ravages of MRSA. I interviewed him about his near-death experience.
Dr. Val: Tell me about your recent experience with a severe staph infection.
Grant: I got my MRSA infection in 2003, after I had a surgery on my ankle in the hospital. I had never heard of MRSA before and it was a very scary ordeal (at certain points, I didn’t think I was going to make it) and it took me a long time to recover. Dealing with my own infection made me realize just how severe MRSA could be. I want to make sure others do not have to go through what I went through. I got lucky with my infection because the doctors recognized it and we were able to treat it. I will always have scars on my ankle from the infection, so I never really forget what I went through and how lucky I was to survive.
Dr. Val: How common are staph infections among basketball players?
Grant: I don’t know exact statistics regarding basketball players, but the scary thing is, now it’s not just in hospitals. Now you’re finding MRSA infections in community settings like gyms, schools, homes and locker rooms. So there is definitely a need for conversation about this, and also about ways to prevent it.
Dr. Val: As an insider, what kind of behaviors have you observed that might put players at higher risk for contracting MRSA?
Grant: One thing I have learned through all of my injuries is that tomorrow is never really promised. As athletes there are so many ways that we can get injured, we can’t underestimate something like MRSA, especially because there are easy ways to prevent it. It’s important for players to know that MRSA can be spread by sharing athletic equipment, towels and razors. To help stop the spread of MRSA in locker rooms and on sports teams, players need to wash their hands frequently and stick to using their own personal items. They also need to know that when working out, they should keep a towel down between them and shared equipment. When it comes to locker room surfaces, those should be disinfected with a bleach solution. I am very conscious of all these prevention methods in my life, because I realize how important the prevention side of it is.
Dr. Val: Now that you’ve had a staph infection, what precautions do you take to prevent re-infection?
Grant: All those little things my mom used to tell me to do still ring true. I make sure to wash my hands frequently and cover any of my cuts -I keep a whole stash of bandages in my locker. I also keep my towels to myself and disinfect with a bleach solution, that’s really easy to make. It only takes a few minutes out of my day to take these steps, but I know first-hand that it can make a world of difference. You know, I often find myself telling my daughters the same things because as a father, it is important that I keep my family safe and healthy.
Dr. Val: What should athletes know about MRSA and what advice do you have for them?
Grant: Athletes of all ages should be encouraged to hit the court or the field and have a good time while remembering the easy prevention steps. Because I have spent so much time not playing, due to injury, I am having so much fun just playing. Everyone should remember that they can help prevent the spread of MRSA easily, so no one has to waste time on the sidelines.
Dr. Val: What’s the most important thing that you’d like to tell Americans about MRSA?
Grant: Wow, how much time do you have? I really want people to realize that MRSA is a serious infection. As I’ve mentioned, before I got it and I hadn’t even hear about it. My ordeal really opened my eyes to this and that it can affect anyone! The scary truth is that more deaths each year are caused by MRSA than AIDS. But, there are easy things people can do to help reduce the spread of MRSA. This includes: washing your hands frequently, not sharing your personal items like towels and disinfecting with a bleach solution. There is more information and tips about how to prevent getting MRSA, including a playbook of prevention, at stopmrsanow.org.