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Many Questions, Few Answers Surrounding Browns' Staph Infections

Cleveland Browns' Star Tight End Kellen Winslow
Cleveland Browns' Star Tight End Kellen Winslow

Kellen Winslow was hospitalized with a staph infection. More than that nobody knows – and if they do know, they’re not talking. He has not revealed the location of the infection, or the type of staph bacteria that caused it, and without that information it’s difficult if not impossible to draw any conclusions about the source of the staph infections that appear to be plaguing the Browns’ team. Robert Salata is head of the infectious disease at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals.

SALATA: If you're really trying to pool all this together and say something's wrong - they're acquiring it from a common area or whirlpools or whatever - none of that really makes as much sense when you understand that these are different types of staph bacteria.

Staph are a common form of bacteria that are normally present on the skin. There are a number of different types of staph bacteria explains Salata – some more serious than others that can cause everything from a small pimple-like abscess to a life-threatening infection. One particularly nasty variety is known as M-R-S-A or muhr-suh has gained recent notoriety because it is resistant to many conventional antibiotics. Staph infections, and the antibiotic resistant MRSA infections have been rising dramatically among the general population, and there have been a number of notable cases of high school, college and professional athletes contracting MRSA infections.

SALATA: This is a ubiquitous problem. It’s happening everywhere. The fact that they have more cases from the Browns’ organization has been a point of interest but I’m not sure we have all the details to fully comment on how this happened, where it was acquired – and it may have been from different places.

It has not been made public whether any of the seven staph cases involving Browns’ players were MRSA. Hospital sources say that at least two cases were not MRSA, and were different strains of staph – indicating they didn’t originate from a single source. While other teams have reported staph infections, there simply aren’t any statistics on the rates of staph infections among professional football players so whether Browns players have more staph infections than any other professional football team is pure speculation. The Winslow incident though does suggest that teams like to keep these matters quiet. According to Winslow, the team asked him to keep his staph infection under wraps. He didn’t comply, and the revelation …along with public criticism of the Browns management….earned him a week’s suspension without pay. Brown’s coach Romeo Crennel.

CRENNEL: If he has an issue he should address it to the organization and not to the media

Although three of the 7 infections of Browns players occurred after surgeries at the Cleveland Clinic, there is no evidence that those infections were acquired in the hospital. The Browns’ management denies their training facilities are the source of the infection, and argues that they have gone to great lengths to educate the players and to disinfect the facilities

CRENNEL: I think our team is doing everything we can to try and keep our players safe, but even with that there’s no guarantees. And as you look around – around the league --you’ll see that there are no guarantees.

And the experts back him up. Short of sterilizing sports facilities, Dr. Salata says there’s not much more they can do. Common sense hygiene practices – things like showering immediately after a workout, laundering clothes and towels after each use, washing hands and covering cuts are the most effective methods of preventing a staph infection.

Gretchen Cuda, 90.3