Disease Can Spread Easily When Passing Basketballs

April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Basketballs and volleyballs can potentially spread dangerous germs between players, according to a new study by UC Irvine. The researchers hope to bring a new awareness to athletes, coaches, trainers and parents about safe sanitation practices for athletes. The research team presented their findings at the American College of Sports Medicine national conference in May, 2013.

Known for causing staph infections in athletes, Staphylococcus aureus was chosen for the study. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a type of staph infection that is resistant to many antibiotics, making it a worrisome condition for doctors. Athletes who contract MRSA often have multiple emergency room visits, costly outpatient follow-ups, and time away from games and practice. Because of this, the NCAA has initiated a campaign to identify and prevent the spread of diseases between athletes.

During the study led by Brandon Haghverdian, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and starts medical school at UC Irvine in the fall, the team analyzed the germ threat on volleyballs and basketballs, the players’ hands and the gym floor. For each type of item, two of the three surfaces were sterilized while the third was left in a native state. For the balls and floor tiles, a Germicidal Ultraviolet “C” (UVC) light was used for sterilization. Players hands were sterilized using antibacterial soap.

First, the team sampled S. aureus cultures from all three surfaces. The players then dribbled and passed the balls in a specified pattern and duration to simulate actual play. In each case, the team found that S. aureus accumulated on the sterilized surfaces during play. They also found the germ was able to survive on the surface of the balls up to 72 hours in storeroom conditions.

“The overwhelming prevalence of Staph. aureus we encountered supports our understanding of the gym environment as a reservoir of germs,” Joshua A. Cotter, a postdoctoral fellow in orthopedic surgery, said. “Institutions, coaches, and athletes should take note of the role the sports ball can play as a vehicle for the transmission of potentially life-threatening germs.”

Cotter, who supervised the study, but did not participate, added that other dangerous bacteria and viruses may also be spread among athletes.

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