Staph infections a curious problem Clippers, other teams face

The Clippers will be without Blake Griffin for some time.

Soobum Im/Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Clippers star Blake Griffin is the latest athlete to undergo surgery for a staph infection, and it’s not as uncommon as you might think. 

In 2003, the USC football team dealt with a rash of staph infections, and last year, quarterback Cody Kessler reportedly had surgery to reportedly remove one in his toe.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Paul Pierce had one when they were both in Boston during the 2006-07 season, but he only missed one week.

The Dodgers have dealt with several staph infections as well. Former Dodger Casey Blake had one in 2011, as did former Dodger Xavier Paul. Yasiel Puig had a mild case in the offseason in 2012.

"The key to these things is a quick and accurate diagnosis," said Stan Conte, the Dodgers vice president of medical services. "Occasionally, there can be an ingrown hair that a player doesn’t think is a big deal. They may think it’s a pimple and typically try to pop it. If we see it, we assume it’s a little, small, ingrown hair that is MRSA and we’re very aggressive with the diagnosis. We put a widespread antibiotic that attacks MRSA.

"The reason it’s so hard to deal with is that most antibiotics don’t (work) … We’ll try to get ahead of the infection if we can."

According to WebMD, MRSA is "a bacterium that causes infections in different parts of the body. It’s tougher to treat than most strains of staphylococcus aureus — or staph — because it’s resistant to some commonly used antibiotics.

The symptoms of MRSA depend on where you’re infected. Most often, it causes mild infections on the skin, like sores or boils. But it can also cause more serious skin infections or infect surgical wounds, the bloodstream, the lungs, or the urinary tract."

Conte talked to Foxsportswest.com about how the Dodgers have dealt with staph infections, not the particular case of Blake Griffin.

Griffin had his elbow drained in New York when the Clippers were there to play Brooklyn on Feb. 2. When the team landed in Oklahoma City on Saturday night, Griffin was immediately taken to the hospital where it was determined he had a staph infection. He flew back to Los Angeles, where Dr. Neal ElAttrache performed surgery on Monday.

Griffin will be re-evaluated in three weeks, meaning he will likely miss at least nine games. 

The Clippers have the luxury of the injury happening before this week’s All-Star break. The Clippers host Houston today, then have a week off for the All-Star break. 

Griffin tweeted on Tuesday: "Thanks for all the messages! Surgery went well. If you need me I’ll be setting a record for most consecutive @Netflix minutes watched."

Like Griffin, Casey Blake was on the road when the staph infection hit.

"In the case of Casey Blake, we didn’t know where the MRSA came from," Conte said. "We were in Chicago, and he hit his elbow, but he didn’t break the skin. The next day in Miami, we noticed his elbow was puffy on the back side. I said, ‘Geez, it looks like you must have banged your elbow.’ 

"Literally, within 30 minutes we watched his elbow get bigger and bigger. We put him in the hospital and they drained it and washed it out. Then we went back to LA, we went to USC and he spent three days it the hospital. It can accelerate quickly."

The Dodgers’ training staff is constantly cleaning the training room in an effort to wipe out germs, according to Conte. That’s a much easier task for any sports team at home than on the road. 

 "It’s difficult when we go on the road, because you can’t control a lot of stuff," Conte said. "… The night before games when we come in, you put like a bomb spray that goes around the room and kills everything before players come in. We also preach great hygiene, washing your hands. We spray and wipe everything down. The training room situation is one where everyone jumps on the table. There are carriers of MRSA, 25-50 percent of people are carriers of MRSA and if they have an open wound (it can spread). With an open wound, you have to be very careful and wait for the skin to completely close."

Casey Blake was out for about four weeks with his staph infection.

Blake Griffin’s estimated timetable is anywhere from 10 days to 4-6 weeks.