UCI Research Shows Passing and Dribbling Balls in Gyms Can Make You Really Sick

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Things haven't exactly been looking up for Kobe Bryant.

He ended his last season with a torn Achilles. His Lakers made a quick exit from the playoffs. Now, he won't be handing the LA superstar baton to Dwight Howard, who left for Houston.

Oh, and Vanessa's back!

But at least we can now recognize the greatest NBA player to call Newport Coast home for always protecting his teammates from harm. That's because new UC Irvine research shows passing a basketball can spread dangerous germs.

Black Mamba, of course, never passes.

An undergraduate independent study project isolated Staphylococcus aureus, a germ known for causing staph infections in athletes. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a kind of staph that is particularly worrisome because of its resistance to many antibiotics. Athletes infected with MRSA have missed games and practices due to emergency room visits and outpatient follow-ups. The NCAA reportedly even initiated a campaign to help identify and prevent diseases which can be spread among athletes.

For the study, UCI researchers analyzed the threat of germs on volleyballs and basketballs, the players' hands and the gym floor. Two surfaces were sterilized and a 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.

Staphylococcus aureus cultures were sampled from all three surfaces, and then the players dribbled and passed the ball in specified patterns and duration to simulate actual game play. In each run, the previously sterile surfaces accumulated more Staph. aureus through play--and the nasty stuff remained on the balls in storeroom conditions for 72 hours.

"The overwhelming prevalence of Staph. aureus we encountered supports our understanding of the gym environment as a reservoir of germs," says Joshua A. Cotter, the study's supervisor and a postdoctoral fellow in orthopedic surgery, in a UCI statement.

Noting that the research shows other dangerous bacteria and viruses other than Staph. aureus may also be spread among athletes, Cotter suggests, "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."

The research, which was led by Brandon Haghverdian, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in biological sciences and starts medical school at UCI in the fall, was presented by graduating biological sciences student Nimesh Patel at the American College of Sports Medicine national conference in May. Other contributors to the study were: Kenneth Lam and Rose Park, who recently graduated with bachelor's degrees in biological sciences; Lisa Wang, a senior nursing science student; and Gregory Adams, associate adjunct professor of physiology & biophysics.

Email: mcoker@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!


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