Talk about an unwanted pass -- basketballs and volleyballs can spread potentially dangerous germs among players, according to a new study.
The findings point to the need for athletes, coaches, trainers and parents to understand the necessity of properly cleaning sports equipment.
The study focused on the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause staph infections in athletes. One kind of staph bug is methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA), which is resistant to many antibiotics.
Researchers from the University of California, Irvine, analyzed the germ threat on basketballs, volleyballs, players' hands and the gym floor. For each phase of the study, two of the three surfaces were sterilized and the third was left alone. All three surfaces were then checked for S. aureus.
Next, the players used the balls to simulate actual game play. In each phase, previously sterile surfaces accumulated more S. aureus through play. The researchers also discovered that S. aureus could survive on basketballs and volleyballs for up to 72 hours in storerooms.
"The overwhelming prevalence of S. aureus we encountered supports our understanding of the gym environment as a reservoir of germs," study supervisor Joshua Cotter, a postdoctoral fellow in orthopedic surgery, said in a university news release.
"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," he added.
Although the study looked only at S. aureus, other dangerous bacteria and viruses may also be spread among athletes the same way, Cotter said.
The study was presented at a recent meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine. Research presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.