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As NFL Player Daniel Fells Contracts MRSA, a Look at How Serious Staph Infections Work

Korin Miller

Daniel Fells, tight end for the New York Giants, on the field in 2011. (Photo: Getty Images) 

New York Giants tight end Daniel Fells has been hospitalized since early October due to a persistent Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection.

Fells, 32, was moved to the intensive care unit on Friday, NFL.com reports. He has had five surgeries to try to save his foot, which is at risk due to his infection.

Fells reportedly developed the infection after he had a toe injury, followed by an ankle injury. He was given a cortisone shot to treat it and, after a week of having ankle and foot pain, was taken to the ER with a 104-degree fever.

Daniel Fells in January 2015. (Photo: Getty Images)

“This is a serious situation that has been taken seriously from the beginning,” Giants spokesman Pat Hanlon told NFL.com. “We’re all fighting for Daniel.”

But what is MRSA, exactly? And why is it so concerning?

MRSA is a type of staph bacteria that has become resistant to many forms of antibiotics.

“It’s become increasingly common over the last decade,” board-certified infectious disease specialist Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, tells Yahoo Health. “I can’t count how many MRSA infections I see. It’s not something that’s rare to a hospital-based physician or nurse.”

It’s also not rare to NFL teams. 

The Washington Redskins had five players develop MRSA in 2006, believed to be transmitted in the team’s locker room (it underwent a major renovation as a result that cost nearly $80,000, CBS reports). The St. Louis Rams, Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers also have had documented cases.

While MRSA infections have leveled off in the last few years following a rapid increase from the 1960s to mid-2000s, they have the potential to turn deadly — and do. According to a paper published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, MRSA infections now kill more people each year than HIV.

Even scarier: You can contract an MRSA infection after getting a cut on your skin (even a small one).

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Adalja explains how: Everyone has some form of staph bacteria on their skin and in their nose, and about one percent carry MRSA.

While MRSA is harmless on your skin and in your nose, it can infect your soft tissue, bone, and blood, if it gets into your body. From there, it can do everything from cause a small, localized skin boil to infect your bloodstream and cause immediate symptoms of fever and chills.

“You can get it anywhere,” says Adalja, adding that bloodstream infections are particularly concerning because MRSA can spread throughout your system and end up in your heart and brain, among other areas.

And from there, it can turn deadly. “Once it spreads systematically, all bets are off,” says Adalja.

But while MRSA can be naturally-occurring on a person’s skin, it also can be spread through contact and may even be found in certain environments. That’s why the Giants have scrubbed and sanitized their locker room, training rooms, and meeting rooms, among other precautions.

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“It’s not uncommon to see sports teams take these kinds of actions because of the chance of environmental infection,” says Adalja. “People share towels, bump into each other, get tiny nicks from shaving…bacteria in the environment can cause an infection in these settings.”

MRSA is resistant to a major class of antibiotics, but it is treatable with antibiotics like vancomycin and daptomycin that “may not be as effective and may be harder to use,” says Adalja. There is also often some form or surgery involved in MRSA infections that aren’t in a person’s bloodstream.

Healthcare workers are more prone to carrying MRSA due to their frequent contact with sick patients, Adalja says, but so are people who have been in and out of the hospital and those who regularly go to gyms.

Adalja notes that not every person who carries MRSA and has a cut will be infected, but they are at a greater risk.

However, he stresses that MRSA is something we all should be concerned about, especially as Americans are overusing antibiotics, which has allowed MRSA to become a larger problem.

“The early battles against MRSA were lost a long time ago,” Adalja says. “This is out there.”

If you have a cut or wound that appears infected or is accompanied by a fever, call your doctor immediately.

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