(HealthDay News) — College athletes in contact sports such as football and soccer are more than twice as likely as other college athletes to carry methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), according to a new study presented at the annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDWeek), held from October 8–12 in Philadelphia.

Over two years, researchers tracked 377 male and female Vanderbilt University varsity athletes in 14 different sports. Contact sports, as opposed to sports like golf and cross-country, were played by 224 of them. Taking monthly nasal and throat swabs, the researchers found that as many as 31% of contact sports athletes carried MRSA compared to a high of 23% of the other athletes. About 5–10% of the general population has been colonized with MRSA, the researchers said.

“This study shows that even outside of a full-scale outbreak, when athletes are healthy and there are no infections, there are still a substantial number of them who are colonized with these potentially harmful bacteria,” study coauthor Natalia Jimenez-Truque, PhD, a research instructor with Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, said in a Society news release.

“Sports teams can decrease the spread of MRSA by encouraging good hygiene in their athletes, including frequent hand washing and avoiding sharing towels and personal items such as soap and razors,” Jimenez-Truque said.

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