Panthers don't plan extra precautions to combat Bucs' MRSA outbreak

jperson@charlotteobserver.comOctober 21, 2013 

The Panthers don’t plan to take extra precautions this week when they travel to Tampa Bay to face the Buccaneers, who have had three players diagnosed with MRSA.

Bucs offensive lineman Carl Nicks had surgery last week to get rid of MRSA, a staph infection that is resistant to many common antibiotics. The other two Bucs players with documented cases are kicker Lawrence Tynes, who is sitting out this season, and rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks, who played Sunday at Atlanta.

According to a report from Fox 13 in Tampa, a cleaning crew wearing Hazmat suits sterilized the visitors locker room at the Georgia Dome on Sunday after the Bucs left.

The Patriots did the same thing after training with the Bucs in New England during the preseason, sanitizing the visitors locker room at Gillette Stadium to remove any existence of MRSA.

But Panthers officials and players said Monday they weren’t concerned about playing at Raymond James Stadium during their Thursday night game against the Bucs.

Tampa Bay has had its training facility professionally cleaned twice since the outbreak. The Bucs’ practice facility is not located at the stadium.

“We trust that they’re taking the proper precautions,” Panthers long snapper J.J. Jansen said. “I remember my first or second year in the league, we played Miami in the preseason and they had bird flu. These little things pop up.

“Obviously, every other team’s played them so far. And they had training camp with the Patriots, and the Patriots had training camp with the Eagles, and there wasn’t any residual effects.”

Panthers wide receiver Domenik Hixon said trainer Ryan Vermillion talked to the team recently about how to prevent MRSA, which can spread through cuts and abrasions and can be life-threatening, especially in cases of older people who are infected.

The Panthers encourage their players to use an antiseptic, antimicrobial liquid soap, and there are signs in the training room and shower area about skin infections.

“We take all the precautions. Ryan Vermillion and his guys are on us about the Hibiclens (antiseptic soap) and keeping ourselves as clean as possible, treating wounds and all that stuff,” Jansen said. “I’m sure we’ll take any extra, necessary precautions. But I don’t think it’s a concern.”

Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn contracted MRSA as a freshman at South Carolina. Munnerlyn was hospitalized for several days and missed a game after his elbow swelled as a result of the staph infection.

“I was in the hospital for like three or four days. It was crazy. I’ve never felt that bad in my life,” Munnerlyn said. “And I couldn’t remember (how it) happened.

“I’d never experienced anything like that before. I didn’t know what was going on. Coming from fresh out of high school, I’d never heard of anything like it. So when I got it, I knew it was serious.”

Munnerlyn needed stitches to close a gash on his right shin two weeks ago after Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly stepped on his leg in the first half at Arizona. Munnerlyn said he’s been careful to treat and clean the cut.

Panthers team physician Robert Heyer said it’s difficult to prevent MRSA, which accounts for about 40 percent of all staph infections.

“You cannot prevent it 100 percent. It is everywhere,” Heyer said. “It is concerning because it takes longer to (treat), especially a deep-tissue infection that requires surgery. It’s not going to be antibiotics for five days and you’ll be back on the field. It usually takes longer than that.”

Matthew Matava, the St. Louis Rams’ team physician, said players are more educated about MRSA now than they were when the Rams had an outbreak in 2003.

“Players would joke around back then. They’d see a wound, they’d rub it on each other (jokingly),” Matava said. “Now they know you don’t do that. You cover it up. We’ll have players come to us with little bitty pimples and say, ‘Is this MRSA?’ And we have signs in our locker room, the signs and symptoms of skin infection.”

Matava said MRSA is a bigger issue at small colleges and high schools, where players might have to share towels or equipment because of budget constraints.

But Jansen said despite the precautions NFL teams take, MRSA is a real danger.

“The scary part is you don’t know until you know. There’s nothing that clues you in,” Jansen said. “It’s not like a cold and you might have a little bit of a cough. We’ve always been on top of it.”

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson

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