Bare your soles… to infection?

by Hillary on October 4, 2012


(c) anjrued, flickr creative commons license

This chinchilla is checking shoes for infection. Or eating them. Source: Flickr Creative Commons, (c) anjrued

My feet hate me. They have been subjected to barefoot and minimalist running, pool decks, rocky creek beds, and the hardwood floors of martial arts studios. I do my best to take care of them, especially given all the nasty stuff out there that one can encounter while barefoot/minimally shod. Today I’d like to introduce you to some of the unpleasant infections you can acquire through your feet.

MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)

Community-associated MRSA infections have grown increasingly common in recent years. Once limited to healthcare settings, MRSA can now be acquired through things like high-contact sports and puncture wounds. Athlete’s foot, eczema, and ingrown toenails seem to particularly put one at risk. The problem with MRSA is that in addition to resisting treatment and causing  painful, pus-filled boils it can result in an infection of the bloodstream if untreated. These systemic infections (sepsis) can infect vital organs, cause Toxic Shock Syndrome, and result in flesh-eating infections (necrotizing fasciitis).

  • Prevention: Wear shoes and cover scrapes and cuts while in public areas; wear “shower shoes” (i.e. flip-flops) while in public showers and pools. Contact a doctor if a wound is healing unusually slowly, and let a health care professional take care of any ingrown toenails. See a doctor for any puncture wound.

Plantar Warts (Human papillomavirus )

Human papillomavirus (HPV) has been a recent topic of discussion in regards to vaccines. Unfortunately for those at risk for plantar warts, the vaccine will not protect against the strains of virus that cause warts on the feet. Unlike MRSA, plantar warts can clear up on their own, and sustained infection will only result in satellite lesions – new warts that form in close proximity to the original wart. These eruptions can be painful, and they grow larger over time. If warts do not respond to over-the-counter treatments, doctors may choose to pursue cryotherapy (freezing), laser treatments, or even surgery. Treatment is important, since warts are contagious.

  • Prevention: Don’t share shoes, socks, or towels. Avoid going barefoot in moist, public areas.

Athlete’s Foot (tinea pedis)

Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection that thrives in warm, moist environments. It’s a relative of Jock Itch and results in stinging, burning, and itching at the infection site, usually in between the toes. The infection can spread to the toenails and other parts of the body, and it can also cause an allergic reaction. As we saw with MRSA, athlete’s foot can result in a secondary bacterial infection.

  • Prevention: Wear shoes in public spaces (I feel like this might be a take-home message), and wear shoes and socks that provide air circulation. Change your socks daily. As with plantar warts, don’t share items that come in contact with feet.

Appropriate foot care is important! Many of these protections from infectious disease can also prevent painful injuries. Don’t suffer from the agony of the feet!