Nearly half of THS wrestling team contracts staph infection

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Tecumseh High School. Herald file photo.

Approximately half of Tecumseh’s high school wrestlers were diagnosed with skin infections during the winter season, according to Athletic Director Casey Randolph. Supt. Mike McAran confirmed he wrote one affected family a check from the Superintendent Miscellaneous Account for their child’s doctor bills.

The parent of the infected wrestler that received the check recently notified the Tecumseh Herald of the infectious outbreak out of concern for the athletes because it was “the right thing to do,” he said, but asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue and his child being a minor.

He said of the situation: “We came to Tecumseh with high hopes, both because of the academic and athletic programs. I have always valued coaches and the time they have given to the sport and the athletes. But we have been personally and dramatically affected by the poor decisions of an overdriven-to-win coach. And, those who support him have either not been personally affected or have chosen to turn a blind eye and a cold shoulder to those who were. We are very thankful for the trainer and the athletic director to step in and make sure the kids were inspected and the mats were cleaned properly, and followed up with letters sent home to make sure parents were aware of the situation.”

McAran said he used his best discretion in making the decision to write the check, as he has done in the past with at least one other injury related incident that happened in Indian Stadium to a volunteer who tripped and fell last year.

“You make the best decision possible based on the information gathered,” McAran said of his cutting the family a check for the wrestler’s doctor bills. “You have to figure out what is right and wrong.”

McAran said that insurance is not available for school athletic programs and they are not covered under the system’s health coverage.

He also said he informed the school board of the situation during a weekly update meeting and told them funding may be used for the one particular case. However, to McAran’s knowledge, the $890 check written to the family has not been officially reviewed by the board. The superintendent has a Miscellaneous Spending Account of $10,000 that he can use according to his discretion without prior approval; however, the checks written are received by the board at a later time.

“We had an unusual amount of skin infections this year,” said Tecumseh Athletic Director Casey Randolph. “We had 22 confirmed cases of skin infections and five of those were confirmed herpes cases.”

MRSA or “staph” infection [Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus] involves bacteria found on the skin or in the nose. About 30 percent of people have staph bacteria, but do not have any symptoms of an infection. MRSA is a staph that is resistant to commonly used antibiotics. Skin infections with MRSA often begin with an open-wound injury allowing the bacteria to enter the skin and develop into an infection.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MRSA is most commonly found in health care facilities but is also a rapidly emerging public health problem in the larger community, often among athletes of close-contact sports such as wrestling, football and rugby.

In the general public, most MRSA infections are skin infections that may appear as red, swollen, painful pustules or boils, and which may have pus or other drainage. These infections commonly occur at sites of visible skin trauma, such as cuts and abrasions, and in areas of the body covered by hair (back of neck, groin, buttocks, armpits, beard area).

Staph infections, including MRSA, generally start as small red bumps that resemble pimples, boils or spider bites. These can quickly turn into deep, painful abscesses that require surgical draining. Sometimes the bacteria remain confined to the skin. But they can also burrow into the body, causing potentially life-threatening infections in bones, joints, surgical wounds, the bloodstream, heart valves and lungs.

Wrestlers have picked up staph infections for many years and it is part of the sport. Herpes gladiatorum is one of the most infectious of herpes-caused diseases, and is transmissible by skin-to-skin contact. The disease was first described in the 1960s. It is caused by cutaneous infection with Human Herpes Simplex Virus type 1 (HSV-1), which more commonly causes oral herpes (cold sores). Another strain, HSV-2 usually causes genital herpes, although the strains are very similar and either can cause herpes in any location.

“Skin infections are pretty common in wrestling. Ringworm, impetigo — those are pretty common skin infections that you can catch, pretty much anywhere,” said Randolph. “Those don’t really alarm you like a MRSA staph infection, or a herpes virus.”

While it can’t be certain exactly where the Tecumseh wrestlers picked up the viruses, as most all schools with athletic programs deal with this situation, once additional precautions were put in place at Tecumseh High School to control the spread of the infections they dropped off dramatically.

“Once the athletic trainer, Samantha Radel, came to me with concerns, we met with our school nurse, Denise Worth, as well as Tony Greathouse [this season’s Tecumseh varsity wrestling coach] to formulate a plan,” said Randolph. “We came up with precautions we were going to take at that point and what had to happen in the wrestling room to control it and end it.”

Randolph said that skin infections had also been found in the Tecumseh Wrestling Club, which uses the same facilities but did not involve the Tecumseh Middle School wrestling program.

Letters were given to the wrestlers to give to their parents and letters were also sent out addressing the problem with preventive measures they could take to help reduce any additional outbreaks. The Lenawee County Health Department was also contacted. The process was similar to that used with a head lice infestation.

“Once we stepped in we started doing daily skin checks with our trainer and from that point on it virtually halted any further spreading,” said Randolph. “What we do know is once we had conrtacted it, it was spread amongst our wrestlers themselves. Where they originally caught it, who knows.”

There were procedures in place before the outbreak occurred which required proper cleaning and disinfection of mats. The wrestlers must also apply a product, Kenshield skin creme, on the skin that helps prevent the spread of infections. Coaches are also to have the athletes wear clean gear and clothing on the mats and immediately shower after every away competition.

“Those are all the things that were already in place or should have been in place,” said Randolph.

It is the head coach’s responsibility to ensure that the procedures are being followed and that mop heads are washed after each use on the mats, according to Randolph.

Former Tecumseh wrestling coach Tony Greathouse said, “Skin infections in the sport of wrestling, much like concussions in the sport of football, are increasing in today’s day and age, and while we took all the precautions that we could all year long, it’s impossible to know where skin infections come from or where kids originally get them. And once contracted, it’s extremely difficult to monitor them because you’re kind of handcuffed. You’re going off doctor’s notes, doctor clearance, and a lot of times that can be misdiagnosed. And from that, wrestling is a close contact sport, it’s the nature of the sport, communicable diseases are sometimes spread. It’s unfortunate that that happened this year, however we did everything we could to prevent it from happening. After it did happen we did everything we could to get everything cleaned up. And we did that before the end of the season.”

Greathouse added that he cleaned the wrestling room on a daily basis.
To Randolph’s knowledge, this is the largest outbreak of its type ever in Tecumseh Public Schools.

“I’ve been in wrestling a long time, over 25 years, and never had anyone contract any form of herpes,” said Randolph. “Obviously this became a rather large deal once parents realized what their kids were catching.”

The issue came to light in January of this year and steps began immediately to control any additional infections. Randolph said the problem has been taken care of and infections are no longer spreading out of control.

“We feel like we were able to control it,” said Randolph. “Starting in mid-February we felt like it was under control. Unfortunately, those student-athletes who caught herpes will have it forever.”

The students who were infected will be allowed to continue wrestling if they clear inspections.

“I’m not a medical professional,” said Randolph, “So it’s hard for me to speak on, but they are cleared to wrestle unless they were to have some kind of outbreak. Then they would be held off the mats and not allowed to wrestle.”




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