Special Assignment: Germ Concern

By: Lynnsey Gardner
By: Lynnsey Gardner

November 20, 2006

Germs are everywhere, and they are getting stronger.

And there's an old bug with a potentially deadly new strain out in our community.

This staph infection has a dangerous new gene making it resistant to our common antibiotics.

As one Laney High School football player learned, this germ is no joke. It almost cost him his season, his leg, and his life.

It was a storybook season for the Laney Wildcats: a new stadium filled with big victories, and now the playoffs. But for junior defensive lineman T. McNeal, the beginning was no fairy tale.

"I felt a sharp pain in my leg. I couldn't lift my leg, I couldn't walk on it," T. told News 12. "It hurt every time I took a step. I couldn't even run."

"It just got bigger and redder," T.'s father Ted said.

A few days later his right leg swelled to twice the size of his left leg.

"We took x-rays that showed nothing, but it kept getting worse and worse--the pain," T. said. "So the doctor told me I needed to go get an MRI."

The MRI showed something was very wrong inside T.'s leg: over a quart of blood built up under his muscle.

"Once the bacteria gets into that pocket of blood, they're just going to start growing like crazy," Dr. Jim Wilde of MCG Health Systems told News 12.

The bacteria inside the leg was a strain of staph called methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, commonly known as MRSA.

Dr. Wilde is an expert on the virus.

"What we've got now is being referred to as community associated MRSA, meaning it is showing up in healthy people out in the community," he said.

Healthy, active people of all ages, like T. McNeal, are easily infected with MRSA because staph is everywhere that we are.

"He could have picked it up at an away football game, on the field from the guy he was tackling...it could have been in his locker room," Dr. Wilde said.

And the bacteria only needs a simple scrape on the skin to get in and cause abscesses.

"The biggest difference between our traditional staph in years past and the MRSA that's become common is that the antibiotics used to treat staph infections in the past no longer work," Dr. Wilde said.

Patients often have to have surgery on abscesses. If treated improperly or not caught in time, the infection can be deadly.

For six days, T. McNeal laid in a hospital room recovering and dreaming of making it back to the field. To stay motivated, all he had to do was look out his window, which overlooked Laney's new stadium.

"Every morning we'd get up, they'd bring his breakfast and he would say, 'Mom, open the blinds.' He'd just sit there and stare at it," Deborah McNeal recalled.

"I'd go to the window every 15 to 20 minutes just to look at the at stadium because it looked so beautiful," T. said.

His goal was to start in the Laney Homecoming game, the first game ever to be played in the school's new stadium. That was a dream he shared with his dad Ted, who played on Laney's 1968 champion team.

T. was released two days before the big game, and started on both offense and defense.

"It was great to see him heal like that and keep his focus on football to really get himself back into the game," Ted said.

Number 55 is back into the game in a big way, helping carry the team into the playoff season. But he hasn't forgotten his doctor's note.

"Education is key--being careful not to share the common objects like towels, and razors, soap, and uniforms, and pads," said Dr. Wilde. "Things like that should not be shared among athletes."

And it's a lesson T's taking to his team both on and off the field.

"I try to clean up the locker room a lot more now, and when the room is dirty, and all the underclassmen when they clean...make sure it's spotless, especially around my area."

Dr. Wilde says MRSA is the number one cause of skin infection in Georgia.

Last year Emory Hospital did a study, and 70 percent of all skin infections from people coming in off the streets were caused by MRSA.

So here's what you can do to protect yourself.

Be more careful with the objects you come in contact with every day.

Sharing items like clothes, soap, razors, and sports equipment are all a bad idea. And when you work out, be sure to use the spray bottles and towels at the gym.

Make sure to always wipe down and clean your workout equipment before you get to feeling the burn.

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