October 26, 2008

Artificial turf and staph infections?

The team doctor for my son's high school football field is a biogeneticist. (He just left for the Antarctic to study micro-organisms than live in saline lakes under permanent ice caps.)

He absolutely hates artificial turf on football fields, which is becoming ever more common in high school football. He believes that the growing problem of staph infections among football players, such as Peyton Manning, is exacerbated by artificial turf. Traditional grass fields host an extremely rich and diverse ecology of micro-organisms. New germs can't take over a grass field because there are so many competitors already there, some of whom will eat them. And we've evolved to deal with the typical kind of germs living in grass -- humans have been messing around on grass for a long time.

In contrast, artificial turf is an ecological desert. There aren't many competitors for staph germs. So, if one kid with staph scrapes some of it off on the turf and then another kid lands on the same spot and gets a turf burn, the second kid can get a staph infection in his bloodstream.

Anyway, that's his theory.

My view is that in the 37 years I've been playing golf, greenskeepers have made lots of progress on keeping grass healthy. (They even have a golf course grass today that doesn't need freshwater -- you just spray salty seawater on it pumped right out of the ocean.) Is it really that hard to keep a grass field in decent shape? If you are thinking of putting in expensive artificial turf, why not instead put in the kind of super drainage that can keep a field from getting chewed up when played on in the rain.

And I'm not sure that I really like the kind of Peyton Manning-style football that evolves on artificial turf. You can make the passing game much more precise on artificial turf (especially indoors) because the receiver's footing is absolutely consistent -- if he executes correctly and the defense doesn't get in the way, he will be at spot X in Y seconds every time because there's no missteps.

But you'll notice that Monday night games in the snow get higher ratings because football is not supposed to be all that precise.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

28 comments:

Freddie Flintoff said...

They tried proper football, i.e., soccer, on artifical turf during the 1980s, but it never caught on. Undersoil heating did away with the problem of frozen pitches.

Bill said...

Also, indoors there's no wind. Wind wreaks havoc on the passing game, more than rain or snow.

Here in Pittsburgh, I think we get caught in between. In Green Bay, the grass goes dormant and the ground freezes. Here, the grass goes dormant but the field stays soggy.

Devin Finbarr said...

When Bob Kraft built Gillette Stadium ( home of the Patriots ) he specifically wanted a grass field, so he spent millions on a sophisticated heating and drainage system so that the grass would live. Unfortunately, it did not take long for the grass to get torn up, leaving a the field a disaster. It was so bad, they ended up replacing the grass with turf in the middle of the 2006 season. Note that part of grass troubles at Gillette came from the orientation of the stadium and what it allowed in for sunlight, making it much harder for the grass to grow. This issue was apparently missed during stadium construction.

SKT said...

Well, I'm a doctor, albeit a recent graduate from medical school and with limited experience. But I have seen and treated dozens of cases of Staph Aureus and other types of bacterial, fungal, and viral infections.

Quite frankly artificial turf has nothing to do with it. I hate to say this - and no offense to your son, maybe he's one of the clean ones - but football players are extremely, extremely filthy people. I'm not even remotely surprised that they come down with these skin infections so much.

Anyway, I get exposed to a lot more nasty bacteria, viruses, and fungi than you guys do and even the high school football players do. Yet, I can't remember the last time I got sick. Maybe it's because I practice good hygiene? The Infectious Diseases specialists that taught us in medical school said as much as well. Like you always say, the more likely explanation is the correct one, and from where I stand blaming artificial turf is flat out ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

That Lake Vostok is crazy. The closest thing to an extraterrestrial environment on planet Earth. Your friend is a lucky guy to be able to study it and the other subglacial Antarctic lakes.

SKT said...

BTW Staph Aureus is everywhere. A few weeks ago, I had this middle aged Mexican guy with a scrotal abscess that grew MRSA. He kept asking me over and over again how he got it, and he spent all of his time worrying about it, about what he touched, what he wore, etc.

I told him he was wasting his time. People get minor scrapes all the time. And the skin isn't even remotely close to being an absolute barrier to the outside world. Staph Aureus is everywhere. The only thing that can really be done is to wash your hands, shower, wear clean clothes, etc. If you follow these rules, they don't guarantee anything, but it cuts down your chances significantly.

Let's have a group of football players that actually wash their hands, bathe everyday, and wear clean equipment, and I can eliminate your MRSA problem. Good luck getting them to follow that though.

Steve Sailer said...

Okay, but are football players getting dirtier than they used to?

Actually, they're getting less dirt on them because more and more they play and practice on artificial turf. Yet the rate of staph infections among football players keeps going up.

Anonymous said...

I've had my share of turf burns from soccer on artificial turf. On grass, the same slides would have left me dirty, but with skin intact. Perhaps the problem is simply that fake turf creates more open wounds?

SKT said...

"Yet the rate of staph infections among football players keeps going up."

Not sure, haven't seen any data to that effect. To be honest with you, we don't stay up at night worrying about strong, young people with relatively minor, common, and easily treated problems. I even did a month of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and didn't see any football players hospitalized with this concern, amongst the few hundred patients we rounded on that month. Nor have I seen any being hospitalized on our adult service.

What I do know is that the Staph/Strep. bacteria around today are much virulent than those around even a few decades ago due to antibiotic resistance. Perhaps this also makes them stronger against people's immune systems, i.e. folks were getting them back in the 70's as well but could fight them off on their own before the disease process was apparent?

Anyway, this ranks very low on the list of medical concerns to investigate.

Anonymous said...

"Let's have a group of football players that actually wash their hands, bathe everyday, and wear clean equipment, and I can eliminate your MRSA problem. Good luck getting them to follow that though."

High school football players typically have one set of pads and usually one pair of practice pants and one practice jersey. Pads and practice pants and jerseys get soaked with sweat and mud every practice session (teams usually practice on chewed up practice fields that are more dirt than grass, to save their game day fields wear & tear). Some high schools have a drying room where they at least dry off the players' equipment and practice clothes overnight, but in some schools the kids just wear the same wet stuff every day.

- Fred

Anonymous said...

Uh.. speaking as a former high school football player, I can't subscribe to one poster stating that football player's are inherently "filthy."
Though our pants and jersey's would get dirty over the week, we always had clean underwear and clean tee-shirts, and if some days were particularly hot, most of us would was our stuff of our own accord.
The fact is, if anyone was stinking up the place, peer pressure would straighten him out sooner or later, since we had to be in close proximity of each other. We wouldn't put up with anyone stinking up the place.
I can't even think of there being any consistent problem.
Truth be told, when I transferred out of football, and got amongst the regular kids in P.E., THAT'S where the stank was consistent.
Coming from the football team elite, I remember complaining to friends I had inserted myself in the middle of a hoard of trailer trash losers who stunk like hell.
High School football players may be a lot of things, but filthy ain't one of 'em.
We liked football, but of lateral importance was getting laid.
Being "filthy" would undermine that primary goal.

Anonymous said...

To the doctor's stating that staph isn't a big concern for them, it should be.
MRSA related teen deaths are on the rise, and are currently responsible for more deaths in the United States than AIDs.
Over 18,000 people died in 2005 from MRSA infections.
If it were me, I'd probably discourage my kid from contact sports, especially wrestling.

eh said...

Artificial turf exists and is used for purely commercial reasons, i.e. compared to maintaining natural turf for years it is not "expensive". It's the same kind of thinking/exploitation that has ruined the bowl games and peppered practically every night of the week with football. Try going to a football game sometime -- it is maddening. The players seem to spend most of their time standing around doing nothing, waiting for the TV timeouts to end. At least the people watching on TV have the commercials to numb their brains. I gave up on attending and watching almost every type of big-time pro sport a long time ago.

Anonymous said...

Steve,
You must know (as virtually every husband in the world does), that *cutting* the grass is the big problem - a labor intensive, god-awful bore at the best of times, you also must know that golf courses look tip-top because some poor bugger is charged with cutting the grass every morning.
I hope you're not one of those Californians who has never, ever mowed a lawn and relies on 'cheap Mexican help', are you?

Anonymous said...

The perspective I've heard is that hospitals have become filthy places with two main vectors: human corpses in ICU's--nothing like a big ol' slab of human protoplasm hooked up to a machine for bacteria to hold a convention in; and overworked, poorly educated nurses, carrying germs from room to room.

--Senor Doug

Bill said...

My daughter's rowing club has a MRSA incident recently. I don't know if the equipment was to blame, but they were washing the boats and oars with bleach water when putting things away because the normal antibacterial washes don't kill the MRSA. At least their gear is easy to clean.

When I was a teenager in the '70s we didn't worry about resistant strains.

With my college hockey team, I probably should take precautions with the water bottles.

Robert said...

Good old fashioned Bears football instead of the artificial football played by some teams is the best!

SKT said...

"MRSA related teen deaths are on the rise, and are currently responsible for more deaths in the United States than AIDs.
Over 18,000 people died in 2005 from MRSA infections."

OK I think you're setting up a fallacy here. Maybe teenagers are getting more of these MRSA infections, but that's because MRSA is more common now than it used to be. And most people dying from these skin infections aren't teenagers but older diabetics who have a limb or two already crudely chopped off by the vascular surgeon, and are still highly prone to all kinds of infections due to poor circulation.

"If it were me, I'd probably discourage my kid from contact sports, especially wrestling."

Wrestlers stink even more than football players.

savvygoper said...

Steve,

Is the artificial turf you are speaking of the older carpet type or the newer artificial grass Field Turf that is increasingly popular at college and pro levels.

For many high schools having a natural grass field is near impossible to maintain in good condition throughout the fall. With multiple levels of football and soccer being played all it takes is one or two rain games to make the field a mudbowl for the remainder of the year.

W Baker said...

"Is it really that hard to keep a grass field in decent shape?"

It's harder than you think if you don't have sufficient manpower, funds, and extreme weather. A good turf needs proper chemical/fertilizer treatment at least six times a year, Bermudas need to be overseeded with dwarf rye toward the end of the season (another source of nutrients and helps with compaction). There's the aeration (sometimes monthly for older fields), sprinkler systems (inground vs. guns). Don't forget weekly painting - sometimes two or three lining sessions for varsity, b-team, and junior high - if they use the same field. Grass control along bordering fences, turf replacement between the hash marks every other season or so, sanding of low spots if you're in a drought or excessive rainfall, et cetera ad nauseum. And that's just the playing field. Double that for the practice fields.

I've been a part of a school's booster club for three years now and keeping a laser-leveled field with specialty Bermuda in tip-top shape is no joke. Probably 200 man hours per week. (We're a pretty expensive private school but still probably don't have the money that Sailer's Southern California school has, so we do a lot of volunteering!)

So a lot of schools just plunk down 500k for artificial turf - that rubber stuff with pellets that can be added or subtracted to make it play faster or slower, think Boise - and they never have to paint, mow, sod, fertilize, etc. again!

But football played on artificial turf is just that, artificial.

Steve, get out there and help paint some Wednesday or Thursday night, and you'll find out just how much work is involved! Seriously, you'll gain a new respect for groundskeepers and the fact that computer generated tv line is always parallel with the painted lines....!

Voodooman said...

I wonder if artificial turf also causes autism.

Bill said...

Probably more abrasions from artificial turf make a difference.

You don't usually get those raw scrapes from falling on grass -- unless it's got ice patches. Worst I ever played on was a syntrex (crushed brick) field with frozen puddles all over the place. That was a cruel joke the city of Seattle played on us kids.

My dad just got over MRSA recently, but it left his foot mangled. I was afraid it would kill him for a while there. He probably picked it up in the hospital. My great uncle Buddy died from MRSA pneumonia back in the early 90s.

MRSA, especially pneumonia, is going to be a big killer of the elderly, I'm afraid. The nursing home model will make it very easily transmitted.

Trevor Whiteman said...

My highschool football days were before the metrosexual revolution, but it was taken, almost as a point of pride, particularly with the offensive lineman, to be dirty and to stink.

They did not even wash their undershirt T-shirts. The lockeroom always stunk of unwashed fat dudes. We made fun of them to their faces, but there was no peer pressure on that deal. Again, they took it as prideful.

Don't recall anyone getting a staph infection, though.

But, we played and practiced on real grass.

Smoked a lot of it, too.

We didn't have a very good team.

Ritualist said...

How different from my (yuppieish suburban) high school in the pre-metrosexual 1980s. The jocks reeked with soap, shampoo, aftershave, and credit-card plastic, and were "soap nazis" especially toward the nerds.

Anonymous said...

"Is it really that hard to keep a grass field in decent shape?"

W Baker nails it right on the head. My experience doing golf course maintenance one summer left me with the impression that the game of golf just isn't worth all the manpower, funding, chemicals, and machinary required to keep the course looking nice.

Anonymous said...

Mowing the lawn as I have to do very regularly (the English climate makes grass grow like billy-ho), I've often pondered the huge ecological waste of it all that grass clippings (valuable carbohydrate), going to waste.
Of course, I compost all my clippings, but the thought always strikes me that grass is the natural food of ruminant mammals, and in years gone by many a good draught horse would have feasted on all of this 'cheap, free, sweet' food.
Obviously taking a Clydesdale down to every suburban back yard for an afternoon is out of the question, but I've ofeten pondered the idea of a communal herd of goats or sheep being maintained by a 'neighborhhod committee' and being 'rented out' to eacxh househoder in the street as a means of ecologically mowing the lawn - and producing valuable biomass in the process.
The downside is that goats eat anything (including dahlias) of course.
But think of all the Mexicans who can be replaced, plus goats don't vote, don't use schools and hospitals and produce some valuable by-products.

Anonymous said...

Steve, do you think there is a link between the mass immigration that is hitting SoCal and the appearance of an aggressive form of Staph? Or is it just Astroturf causing this?

It would be nice if a lab somewhere in the US would analyze the DNA of the bugs and find out what continent they are from. Until that kind of analysis happens I will just blame the lovable immigrants.

Harryfoster said...

Now a Days Artificial Turfstake over the natural grass and no one think about the natural habitat or the organic food for some the mammals.This is high time to think it over again so that the balance should be disturbed.We should plan things in such a way that we can use both type of grass,natural and artificial so thee beauty remains the same.