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Treat Your Blisters to Avoid Season Interruptions from Infection

by Monica Worsley | Jan 24, 2013
MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus), is a type of staph infection resistant to betalactum antibiotics (oacillin, penicillin and amoxicillin), which are often the prescribed medications for the disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), MRSA is most commonly “reported among athletes in high-physical, contact sports such as wrestling, football and rugby” but the infection is also regularly reported among rowers.
This time of year it is difficult for rowers from cold weather climates to shake the urge to get out on the water.

Midway through the off-season, weather permitting, rowers face the reality that their hands are more vulnerable after an extended break from handling the oar. Calluses have worn down and in their place, blisters tend to form when rowing resumes.

In addition to being a nuisance, if not properly cared for, blisters serve as a sight for potential infection. And if one does become infected as a result of staphylococcus aureus bacteria, a rower has what is commonly known as a “staph infection.”

MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus), is a type of staph infection resistant to betalactum antibiotics (oacillin, penicillin and amoxicillin), which are often the prescribed medications for the disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), MRSA is most commonly “reported among athletes in high-physical, contact sports such as wrestling, football and rugby” but the infection is also regularly reported among rowers.

Rower Kristina Vann from Drake University in Des Moines, Ia., was infected a few years ago.

“I had an open blister and I think the river water got into it,” said Vann. “I probably wasn’t cleaning it well enough and it got infected. After feeling like I had the flu and a fever, I went to the urgent care where I was told I had MSRA.”

The bacteria can be transmitted on objects previously touched by an infected person, in addition to spreading via skin-to-skin contact. Therefore, clubs and teams that share equipment should consider taking extra care when an athlete’s blister is infected due to MRSA.

In order to prevent the spread of MRSA among athletes, the CDD recommends that if a blister infected by MRSA cannot be properly covered, meaning “the skin infection is covered by a securely attached bandage or dressing that will contain all drainage and will remain intact throughout the activity,” the athlete should abstain from participation while infected.

However, should a rower continue to practice while infected, a diluted bleach solution can be used to clean the handles of ergometer and oars, as well as seats, without damaging the wood or composite material.

For rowers eager to prevent any avoidable interruptions to water time this spring, consider advice on avoiding infection and caring for blisters offered by Wade Soenksen, assistant athletic trainer at University of Washington.

As someone who frequently interacts with Husky rowers, he has seen his share of blisters and shared how he addresses blisters and helps prevent infection.

Q - If a blister forms, should a rower allow the blister to reduce in inflammation itself or "pop" the blister?

A - If the blister is fluid-filled and giving the athlete trouble, I usually open up the blister in a sterile manner. I use nitrile gloves and clean the area of the blister and around it with either alcohol or betadine-type anti-microbial scrub and then use a sterile scalpel to open about 1 cm to allow the fluid to drain out. If the fluid is not clear and there looks to be an infection present, then the opened blister will be further cleaned, covered and referred to a physician for possible prescription of antibiotics.

Q - If a blister forms and the skin is torn away, would you recommend using an antibiotic ointment like Neosporin, hydrogen peroxide or Band-Aids?

A - For my athletes, when they are not rowing, I fill or coat around the opened blister with zinc oxide to dry out the exposed dermis (which is what is inflamed and causes pain). If the area looks very irritated and possibly has an infection, I tell my rowers to leave Band-Aids on at all times with antibiotic ointment on it.

I typically do not use, nor do I suggest using hydrogen peroxide on the opened blister because it makes the area more inflamed and causes unnecessary pain. Hydrogen peroxide directly onto an opened wound can possibly delay the healing of the exposed dermis.

Q - Are there any distinct signs a blister (opened or closed) may be infected? How long should someone wait before seeing a doctor if they suspect it is infected?

A - When trying to tell if an area is possibly infected, it is important to look at how red the area is – if the area around the blister is warm to the touch, if it is extremely painful to touch close around the area or even further away from the blister and if any strange streaking appears around the blister or any puss that may look like it is trapped or oozing from the area.

If there is any chance you think the area may be infected, it is important to see a physician right away. Currently, there are many antibiotic resistant bacteria that could be present in the blister and could make it difficult to treat if not caught early.

Q - Are there any remedies you suggest to rowers who have blisters?


A - If it is a new blister I use zinc oxide on the area. I have used the New Skin bandage, but I have found that it does not stay on for a long enough period of time. Many of my rowers use tape on their fingers and hands to combat blisters.

Another method I use for blisters that are bothersome and have not been recently opened is Krazy Glue. I caution use of this because you need to make sure your blister does not show any signs of infection, otherwise the glue can trap the infection between the glue and irritated skin causing a fast progression of infection.

For more information on staph infections including MRSA, visit http://www.cdc.gov/mrsa/symptoms/index.html.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/hai/.
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