CA MRSA - Clean Gear & Equipment

Treating the causes, not the symptoms.

Many thanks to the Esporta-authorized operators that responded to my emails on this subject!
Special thanks to Mike Weiner of MetroWest CleanGear in Marlborough, MA
and Blair Anderson of Volunteer CleanGear of Hermitage, TN.

The more you sweat in practice, the less you bleed in battle.
-Author Unknown

Science and history are excellent professors.

Lab tests indicate that a professional cleaning service can kill and remove 99.9997% of the bacteria found in sports equipment. How serious are bacteria in sports?  The CDC reports that:
    10 Pennsylvania college football players were infected in September 2000
    2 Los Angeles-area college football players were hospitalized from MRSA in September 2002, one of whom required surgery and skin grafts
    2 Indiana high school wrestlers were infected in January 2003
    5 Colorado fencers were infected in February 2003
    7 University of Southern California football players were infected in August 2003; 4 required hospitalization
    7 Wisconsin high school football players were infected in October 2003, with one requiring hospitalization
    1 Pennsylvania college football player died from MRSA in December 2003
    3 Texas children from athletic teams at Texas schools died in 4 months in 2003
    1 child in Athens, AL, 14 years old, died on December 20, 2004 after battling a staph infection.
Do you think these are interesting statistics? These were people. These were kids in the prime of their life, tough as nails. Read this Tribute and get to know Ricky Lannetti as a person, not a statistic and then think about what your kid's life is worth. Educate yourself and your kids.

Why wash your sports equipment?  

Think about it...we wash everything else except our sports equipment.

In most cases, we all wash our clothing after a single use. In most cases, the daily usage of clothing does not involve sweaty activity, yet we toss it the into the laundry each day after a single use.  The garment is dry and may sit in the hamper for a few days before a load is run.

Now think about your sports equipment.  From August until December, football players wear helmets and shoulder pads five/six days per week.  After each use, it's placed into a dark locker, set warm and wet from the sweat.  The sweat from both their own body and that of others they may have collided with on the field.  The gear picks up the dirt and dust from the field and the sweat, blood, mucus, and spit from other participants.  When does it get cleaned?  The warm, dark, moist atmosphere of the locker is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.  The same can be said for hockey equipment.  Once off the player, it's back in the hockey bag and stored in the trunk.

The odor emanating from sports equipment is the bacteria, mold, mildew and fungus that forms from improper care and a lack of cleaning.  Football equipment is sent out after the season is over to a host of reconditioners and recertifiers, with whom the schools have long standing contracts.  These businesses ensure the gear's protective integrity and function.  Cleaning is secondary. 

Why haven't we heard of this before?

Why once per season?  Teams use their gear every day, so there is no break in the schedule to have it properly serviced.  The traditional service providers are not equipped to meet this timely demand for cleaning and disinfecting gear without taking the equipment off line.  In all fairness, the need to have this done had not been as serious until recent years when Community Acquired MRSA started to take the young lives of some high school and college football players in addition to some high-profile infections and illnesses of NFL and NHL players.

MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is a relatively new strain of bacteria, spawned from the overuse of antibiotics. A host of companies have cropped up that can handle this problem. A team may have all its gear washed and disinfected without missing a day of practice.

Can't I just spray it with disinfectant?

Let's face it, we don't spray our clothing with disinfectants and deodorants and call it clean. Yet, we send our children out onto the field or rink wearing sports equipment for consecutive days without proper cleaning or even drying. 

What makes this new cleaning service different is the technology. The alternative, albeit insufficient to say the least, is to spray the equipment with Lysol or other disinfectant. On the surface (pun intended), it seems to make sense, but padded equipment is thick and heavy, and bacteria live deep down within the foams and fabrics of shoulder pads, hockey pants, etc. Sprays only attack the surface of the goods. 

Even if folks just tossed the goods into a home or laundromat washer, the items, if not damaged from the agitation and twisting, will only float on top of the water due to the foam make-up of the equipment. In addition, the detergents available are not sufficient for properly cleaning and disinfecting heavy gear. 

How about bleach to kill the bacteria?

While the use of bleach will kill the bacteria, bleach will also damage the foam padding in protective equipment, thereby compromising the integrity of the equipment. This new wash system utilizes large mesh bags to secure all gear in place within the machine, protecting it from physical stress during the wash, positioning it for maximum exposure to the detergents, and allowing the hydraulic and jet action of the washer to flush the solutions through the foams and fabrics, penetrating to where the disinfectants are most needed.  This patented process has only existed for about five years, but it solves the issue of timely service availability while handling the medical aspects of filthy equipment.

Who is responsible for the equipment?

In general, it is the owner of the equipment.  University and secondary school officials such as athletic directors and equipment managers make the decisions as to what service they require and when it will be done.  In most cases, football, baseball and softball equipment is owned by the organization, at all ages and levels.  Whether it be a major college Division 1 or high school football program or the youth baseball/softball league in your town, the owner of the equipment is responsible for the servicing of the equipment.  Some schools have begun to issue helmets for hockey and lacrosse, but the rest of the equipment may be personally owned.


A note to our Athletic Directors - An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

If one of your student-athletes were to get a staph infection and needed to be hospitalized for a week, the hospital bill would be $20,000.00 +.

Your insurance company would have to pay most, if not this entire bill, but would in turn raise your premiums due to the claim. They would then raise your premiums even more due to the high risk of more infections within your athletic department. This hike in premiums would most likely be in the 200-300% range. Check your current premiums and do the math on that amount.  It is probably quite substantial.

It would be a tragedy for any student-athlete to contract a staph infection, but what if it was a star that had a professional career ahead and this infection either eliminated the chance for this career or postponed it? A lawsuit that could result would be in the millions of dollars for loss of potential earnings.

If you have given the student-athlete a scholarship and he can no longer play, or is out for a lengthy timeframe, then the infection has cost you the amount of the scholarship as well.

This is a very serious situation, and with the amount of cases that have been reported in the last few months, there is a strong possibility that your athletic department will be struck with a tragedy of some scale if you do not take preventive measures.

Protect your students and coaches.  Protect your school.  Be Proactive.

Nobody thinks it will happen to them till it does! Just ask the coaches, students and families of those who have suffered.

This service does cost money, but it will also reduce your risk and exposure to the above situations and will therefore save you considerable dollars.

In addition to the above, washing equipment the right way on a regular basis will keep the mold, bacteria and fungus from eating the padding, so it would also stand to reason that this service would also prolong the life of your equipment. The result of this will reduce the amount of money you will need to spend on replacing old worn out gear. The money saved will help offset the costs associated with our services.

Healthy Athletes are Productive Athletes!