Passing the ball may also pass disease, study finds

July 2, 2013

UC Irvine researchers have demonstrated that basketballs and volleyballs can spread potentially dangerous germs among players. Their findings may bring a new awareness to athletes, coaches, trainers and parents regarding safe sanitation practices for athletes.

The undergraduate independent study project was supervised by Joshua A. Cotter, a postdoctoral fellow in , and led by Brandon Haghverdian, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in biological sciences and starts medical school at UC Irvine in the fall. The research was presented by graduating biological sciences student Nimesh Patel at the American College of Sports Medicine national conference in May 2013.

Staphylococcus aureus, a germ known for causing in athletes, was selected for the study. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, commonly referred to as MRSA, is a kind of staph that is particularly worrisome because of its resistance to many antibiotics. Athletes with MRSA infections often must endure emergency room visits, costly outpatient follow-ups, and time away from games and practice. The NCAA has initiated a campaign to help identify and prevent diseases which can be spread among athletes.

During the study, the researchers analyzed the germ threat on volleyballs and basketballs, the players' hands and the gym floor. For each phase of the study, two of the three surfaces were sterilized, and the third was left in its native state. Germicidal Ultraviolet "C" (UVC) light was used to sterilize the ball and the floor tiles, whereas hands were sanitized by washing with antibacterial soap.

Staph. aureus cultures were then sampled from all three surfaces. Next, the players dribbled and passed the ball in a specified pattern and duration to simulate actual sports play. In each study, the previously sterile surfaces accumulated more Staph. aureus through play. Moreover, the investigators discovered that Staph. aureus was capable of surviving on the sports ball after 72 hours in storeroom conditions.

"The overwhelming prevalence of Staph. aureus we encountered supports our understanding of the gym environment as a reservoir of germs," Cotter said. "Institutions, coaches, and athletes should take note of the role the sports ball can play as a vehicle for the transmission of potentially life-threatening germs."

Although not part of this research, Cotter added that other dangerous bacteria and viruses may also be spread among .

Explore further: Families of kids with staph infections have high rate of drug-resistant germ

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Ebola virus mutations may help it evade drug treatment

September 11, 2015

Genetic mutations called "escape variants" in the deadly Ebola virus appear to block the ability of antibody-based treatments to ward off infection, according to a team of U.S. Army scientists and collaborators. Their findings, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.