Several Yale student-athletes have been diagnosed with MRSA, a strain of staphylococcus infection that has impacted both the baseball and women’s crew teams.
A member of the Yale baseball team, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the topic, confirmed to the News that “a few” of his teammates have been infected with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which, according to Richard Martinello, medical director of hospital epidemiology at Yale-New Haven Hospital, has a high resistance to certain antibiotics. A member of one of Yale’s men’s crew teams, who asked to remain anonymous for the same reason, also confirmed that at least one women’s oarsman has developed the infection. Martinello said cases of MRSA are not uncommon among athletes.
Many other members of Yale’s athletic community, however, have declined to discuss the presence of MRSA. Both women’s crew captain Colleen Maher ’16 and baseball captain Chris Moates ’16 declined to comment on the infection, while baseball head coach John Stuper did not return request for comment.
Women’s crew coach Will Porter declined to confirm the infection, but he did praise Yale’s ability to handle serious health situations in general.
“I think that Yale will always protect its students. We have faith in Yale,” Porter said.
Christopher Pecora, director of sports medicine, did not confirm the infection, but said Yale Facilities is “performing all the necessary steps, under guidelines of the Yale Office of Environmental Health and Safety, to complete the cleaning and sanitizing process” of Yale’s baseball and strength training facilities.
Men’s basketball head coach James Jones said his team heard about the infection before he did, adding that the small size of the Yale community makes for “no secrets in the athletic department.” But Jones added that everything he had heard about the infection was simply “hearsay.”
Still, no teams contacted by the News verified that the University has notified them of the outbreak.
“We’ve definitely heard about some of the rumors going around and I’m sure once there’s more concrete information regarding the situation we’ll be informed by the athletic department,” men’s basketball player Sam Downey ’17 said.
Martinello, who specializes in infectious diseases, said that an outbreak of MRSA on Yale’s campus would likely not pose a major threat to the health of the student body.
“Most people who pick up [staph] bacteria never get infected,” Martinello said. “For those who do get infected by MRSA, [the bacteria] causes infections that can be very easily controlled.”
However, Martinello added that in serious cases of staph infection in which the bacteria enters the blood, the infection can develop into an abscess — a swollen area of body tissue containing an accumulation of pus, requiring more serious and aggressive treatment.
Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin agreed with Martinello’s view that such an infection would present a low risk to the community, though he did not confirm the athletes’ infection. In a Sunday email to the News, Genecin said that “community-acquired” MRSA infections do not cause widespread illness. He distinguished community-acquired MRSA from the more serious hospital MRSA infection, adding that the former is not rare among sports teams.
“Periodically we have had small clusters of MRSA skin infection involving people who share athletic equipment and/or have other skin-to-skin contact,” Genecin said.
Martinello cited the physical contact involved in certain sports as a reason for the relative prevalence of MRSA among sports teams. Skin abrasions arising from contact sports can result in infection, he said. He also noted that outbreaks on sports teams can lead to earlier detection of infection than in other instances because of more effective and regular communication among team members and coaches.
Genecin emphasized that the existence of protocols on campus acts to prevent the spread of illnesses like staph.
“There is an ongoing effort to clean [and decontaminate] the environment where infections occur,” Genecin said. “These efforts, under the supervision of Yale Environmental Health and Safety, are redoubled when there are clinical cases.”
The baseball player who asked to remain anonymous added that as a precaution, the team has had its locker room and clubhouse cleaned, clothes washed and sanitized, and that players have been advised to wash their hands as often as possible.
There were 6,639 MRSA-related deaths in 2005 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.