Australian "Mud Football" Game Sickens Players

Participants in a charity "mud football" competition in Western Australia didn't just get exercise and entertainment; more than one-quarter of the players went to the emergency room the next day with infected wounds, according to a study in the April 15, 2004 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases.

The players suffered from infections by Aeromonas hydrophila, a type of bacterium often found in water and soil. The mud for the football game had been prepared by plowing an unused field and pumping water onto it from the nearby Collie River, which was fairly stagnant due to lack of rain. (Mud produced by rainfall does not pose the same health risk as prepared mud.) Participants not only played in the mud, but most also took baths in the river afterwards. Cuts and scrapes from gravel and field stubble became infected with A. hydrophila, causing pus-filled lesions to develop at the wound sites. Several players also experienced headaches, fever, rashes, muscle soreness, nausea and a feeling of general illness.

A. hydrophila is resistant to penicillin and other commonly used antibiotics. Once the cause of the infections was determined, public health officials contacted local physicians to suggest that they re-review their treatment of any mud football players in order to prescribe effective antibiotics.

"Physicians should be alert to the possibility of Aeromonas wound infections, especially in warmer climates," said Dr. Hassan Vally, lead author of the study. He added that if a physician learns that a patient's infected wound has been exposed to water or soil that could be contaminated by A. hydrophila, "antibiotics which are active against Aeromonas should be considered and appropriate microbiological testing performed."

Organizers of mud sports should take certain precautions to protect players against infection, the study concluded. Playing areas should be as free as possible from gravel or other material that could cut or scratch participants, and the water used to make the mud should be treated or taken from flowing rivers. Researchers also advised putting water on the field shortly before the event so that bacteria would have less time to grow, and suggested that disinfectants and showers with warm, treated water be available for players' use.

Source: Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA)