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There was a time when a shot of penicillin or some other antibiotic was the cure-all for just about any infection.

Over time, however, various bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics and, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 23,000 people die annually from infections. Some even take out hospitalized patients who already suffer from weakened immune systems and contract the infections during surgical procedures.

Dr. Jennifer Caudle, a family medicine physician and assistant professor in the department of Family Medicine at Rowan University- School of Osteopathic Medicine, says antibiotics have been used so widely for so long that the organisms they were designed to kill have adapted to them, making the drugs less effective.

The problem was driven home after three members of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers were diagnosed Monday with Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus ,  known as MRSA, a staph infection that is resistant to many antibiotics.

Caudle said prevention is the best way to fight these so-called resistant “superbugs” like MRSA.

“This is something we are seeing more in the communities. You know, this is something that we used to see in hospitals en route cropping up into communities nationwide,” Caudle said Monday in an interview with CNN.

“You know, really what we need to be talking about here is prevention, how to prevent it, how it’s also spread and things like that and also how to treat it because it is something that we do see crop in certain environments, not only sports athletes, but military daycare centers, places where there is  –  environment.”

Environment, Caudle said, includes friction and person-to-person contact, the kind often encountered in sports competitions or situations where someone may be in close contact with someone who has cuts or lesions on the skin, or sharing towels and personal products.

“So, remember, we have bacteria that just live on us. It’s sort of we like are colonized with it,” Caudle said in the interview. “With MRSA or Staph, we can actually be colonized with the bacteria. It doesn’t cause us any problems at all. The way that we can actually track the infection of MRSA, and we should also talk about the types of infections it causes. But if we have a break in the skin, it can cause the bacteria to get in and cause an infection.”

Hospital infections, Caudle said, tend to get into the bloodstream and can also cause pneumonia. Some infections occur at surgical sites, where incisions are made. Other infections can stem from simple human contact between otherwise healthy people.

The infections often look like some sort of bug bite, or a bad pimple. Without treatment, though, these skin infections can become severe.

But the risk of infection is not so severe that healthy people should feel that they have to give up sports or social events.

“The CDC says it’s OK to keep playing sports. We are talking multiple sports. Remember, wrestlers get this. Other sports players that have close contact. The CDC says it’s OK to keep playing as long as you keep the wound properly covered. No leakage, no drainage,” Caudle said. “The wound is not likely to get injured in playing the sport.”

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