Two greco-roman wrestlers in red and blue uniform making a suplex wrestling on a yellow wrestling carpet in the gym

University Hospitals Sports Medicine researchers found that an Infection Risk Reduction Program implemented in participating athletic training rooms reduced the overall amount of bacteria present by 95 percent, including completely eliminating the presence of influenza and multidrug-resistant organisms, such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

The study, conducted in partnership with GOJO and published in the January 2020 issue of the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) national publication Sports Health, found that a program that modifies hygiene behavior by connecting products, people and education can yield impactful infection control results and benefits.

The risk of athletes contracting multidrug-resistant infections from bacteria breeding in athletic training rooms is a real concern. Prior national studies of high school athletic training rooms have suggested over 40 percent of surfaces may be contaminated with MRSA.

“Our protocol was based upon principles used in the athletic training rooms in the National Football League and healthcare hygiene best practices,” says study Co-Auther Dr. Mark LaBelle of University Hospitals Orthopedic Surgery. “Our simplified protocol proved effective and provides a foundation for preventing infections in student-athletes at the collegiate and high school level not only locally, but across the country.”

The infection control program was piloted at two high schools and two colleges in northeast Ohio, including Kent State University. Kent State Associate Athletic Director Trent Stratton said everything they do in their athletic training room revolves around the health and safety of student-athletes. 

“Even though we may think we’re doing a good job keeping the facility clean, having the stats to support it is extremely beneficial,” says Stratton. “At the end of the day, an infection can destroy a season.”

Student-athletes are in close contact in the shared environment of an athletic training room, and in the presence of poor hygiene and contamination, can be exposed to a variety of germs that cause infection.

For the study, hand hygiene solutions including hand sanitizer, soap and a broad-spectrum one-step surface disinfectant sprays were strategically placed throughout the athletic training rooms. Providing products and directing proper placement alone resulted in a more than 60 percent reduction in total bacteria.

After implementing a comprehensive solution that includes disinfectant products, protocols and educational resources, the participating athletic training rooms experienced a 95 percent reduction in total bacteria. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, specifically MRSA and Vancomycin resistant enterococcus (VRE), which were found on 24 percent of surfaces in the training room at the beginning of the study, were eliminated by its end. Additionally, influenza which was initially detected on 25 percent of the analyzed surfaces, such as front door handles, drawer handles, water bottle lids and water cooler nozzles, was eliminated on surfaces sampled after implementation of the program.

“This collaborative study between University Hospitals Sports Medicine and GOJO demonstrates how organizations committed to the health and safety of athletes can develop innovative, scientifically proven programs that can be practically applied to all sports and levels of competition, in particular close contact sports such as wrestling, hockey, gymnastics, soccer or football – where athletes experience greater incidence of infection,” says Dr. James Voos, lead physician for the Cleveland Browns and division chief at University Hospitals Sports Medicine.