Categorized | Health

The Unwanted 12th Man in The Locker Room: Infection & Illness

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A professional sports locker room is a place typically buzzing with activity. Players, trainers, coaches, staff, news reporters, etc., can all congregate there at once. They can also bring with them an unwanted visitor, infections and illness.

Every pro-sports team has battled infection and illness. Outbreaks of the flu occur to sports teams each year. Infections, such as MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus), have occurred in all major sports with highly visible cases affecting stars like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Grant Hill, Paul Pierce and Alex Rios. All mentioned have battled MRSA. Treatments for illnesses and infections range from antibiotics to surgical procedures and have affected many players with lost playing time and diminished performance.

Illness and infections can be spread in many fashions, through direct contact with an infected person, through contact with shared equipment, towels, etc, through contact with an unclean surface and also through an often overlooked carrier, the air we breathe.

Pro-athletes are all very aware of what they put into their bodies. Foods, supplements and medications are all carefully chosen and monitored on how they affect performance. But what about the air they breathe? After all, we breathe more than anything else we do.

The U.S. EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) has stated that 50% of all illness is caused by poor, indoor air-quality and that indoor air-quality is two-to-five times worse that the air outdoors. Contaminants like bacteria, viruses, germs, dust, pollen and spores all contribute to poor air-quality and can be detrimental to one’s health. Another aspect attributing to poor air-quality are the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems that serve locker rooms, training rooms, rehab rooms and meeting rooms. Most HVAC systems were designed to provide comfortable temperatures, not to provide optimal air quality.

Providing optimal air quality is essential for pro-athletes. A professional athlete’s body is more finely tuned than most. This includes the respiratory system. This can leave them susceptible to airborne-illness and infections as their lungs have greater capacity and will process more air and contaminants. This can also leave them more susceptible to allergies.

The rugged nature of sports also leads to scratches, cuts and abrasions. MRSA, for one, can infect through a scratch so small that the eye can’t see it. Turf burn and other abrasions can easily let MRSA in. Though commonly thought to be spread by contact, MRSA can travel through the air as well. One healthcare study showed that over 4% of healthcare workers tested, carried MRSA in their noses. Of that group 45% did not work in patient care, had no direct contact with patients, patient areas or surfaces touched by patients. This shows the ability for MRSA to spread through the air. 1% of all healthy individuals carry MRSA in their noses. Cover up when you sneeze!

Recognizing this, many pro-sports teams and major universities are looking carefully at the health of their facilities and their air quality. Many teams have initiated green and sustainability goals and the ability to provide healthy, clean air as a part of these goals. Some teams have taken a further step in looking specifically at air-quality in their training facilities and enhancing it by installing air purification systems. The Dallas Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars have all installed bi-polar, air ionization systems in their training facilities to improve air-quality and guard against airborne contaminants, allergens and the spread of bacteria, viruses and germs. USC, in their new state of the art training facility, is also installing these systems for the same reasons.

Just like the water bucket and ladle have been replaced by purified bottled water and high performance drinks, air and the environment around pro-athletes should be fine tuned to reduce contaminants as much as possible to prevent the illness and infections that has cost playing time and, in severe cases, prematurely shortened careers and even led to lawsuits. Teams and players all benefit when these type of unwanted visitors are banned from the locker room.

About Tony Abate

Tony Abate is Vice President of Operations at AtmosAir Solutions in Fairfield, Connecticut, which markets and installs clean indoor-air systems for sports facilities in the United States. Visit for more information.

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