Ask The Expert – How do I protect from Staph

I’ve noticed a lot more people getting sick from staph infections. I even heard that some people die from staph. How do I protect myself from it?-Ben Young, Cayucos, California

By Dr. Stuart Watson, surf doc to the Globe WCT Fiji
Staph, or staphylococcus, is the name given to a clan of single-celled bacteria that can cause disease in humans and other animals. It most commonly attacks surfers through fin chops or reef grazes, causing infected cuts, which oftentimes lead to septicemia (blood poisoning) and, fairly rapidly, death-if your immune system doesn’t mount a quick and effective response.

The signs of staph attack: Local redness, local swelling and pain, pus formation, red lines traveling up from the infected area, fever and feeling unwell, swollen or tender lymph glands upstream from the area, especially in the groin or under the arms.

What can I do to prevent Staph infection?
1. Shower regularly and keep clean. Lowering your bacterial and fungal skin population will make you smell better too.
2. Eat and sleep well and keep fit to boost the immune system.
3. Don’t overtrain, get too tired, or surf when you are sick.
4. Don’t surf in sewage!
5. Clean and remove sand, coral, and other foreign material from fresh cuts and scrapes.
6. Use clean or preferably sterile packaged gauze with betadine. Also, 100-percent tea tree (melaleuca) oil is a good, skin-friendly, and safe substitute (or use lime juice if you are desperate and enjoy pain).
7. Protect cuts and grazes with waterproof sterile dressings like Duoderm and Tegaderm.
8. Don’t keep surfing with open wounds, especially in the tropics.
9. See a doctor pronto if you develop signs of infection or have a deep laceration (gash) that may require stitches or staples.

Most of the Top 44 surfers in the world currently have, or in the past have had a staph infection and all of them will have a horror story for you. While a small reef cut may not be a big deal to you at the time, down the road, it can ruin your life, so don’t mess with staph.