TAMPA — A potentially lethal staph infection was diagnosed in a third Tampa Bay Buccaneers player this week, the team acknowledged Friday.
The latest discovery came on Thursday, the same day left guard Carl Nicks learned he had a recurrence of his initial MRSA infection. Nicks and kicker Lawrence Tynes were diagnosed with MRSA infections in August.
MRSA is a type of staph bacteria that is resistant to several antibiotics.
Despite the two discoveries this week, an infectious disease specialist flown in by private jet to meet with Bucs players and staff members said Friday he thinks the team’s training facility remains a safe work environment for all employees.
“I believe it is a safe environment for players and staff and I think there are a few reasons why this is the case,’’ said Deverick J. Anderson, the co-director of the Duke University Infection Control Diseases Outreach Network (DICON).
“I got to come and review the facility about a month ago and I got to see how practice was performed and I think, that based on my observations, there wasn’t anything to (indicate) they are at a very high risk.
“I think football, in and of itself, is a high risk factor for MRSA infections in general, but the fact that a case — and now two and three cases — have occurred does not necessarily mean there is any higher risk here than at any other football location in the country.’’
Citing medical privacy laws and requests from the player, Bucs general manager Mark Dominik declined to name the third Bucs player to contract MRSA.
Multiple online reports, citing unnamed sources, identified the player as rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks.
A second-round pick in the 2013 draft, Banks was not at practice on Friday and was listed as “questionable” on the team’s official injury report for Sunday’s game against Philadelphia with an “illness.’’ Banks did not appear on the injury report the previous two days.
Nicks and kicker Lawrence Tynes were diagnosed two weeks during the preseason with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
Tynes’ infection has so far proved to be the most severe. Unlike Nicks, who declared himself “MRSA free’’ on Sept. 11 and played in the team’s past two games, Tynes is out for the season.
The Bucs agreed to pay Tynes’ $840,000 salary for this year, but their decision to place him on the Non-Football Injury list sparked a grievance, which was filed last week by the NFL Players Association on Tynes’ behalf. The grievance seeks to have the NFI designation lifted, in part because it prohibits Tynes from receiving certain benefits, including a year NFL of service toward his pension.
Nicks, meanwhile, also is listed as questionable for this week’s game, which means he might play.
“Right now that is under discussion,’’ Domimik said when asked about the status of Nicks and the third player for Sunday’s game. “We are in contact with DICON as a neutral party. We are also talking to the NFLPA and the NFL.
“Number one, the player has to feel as if he can play. And number two, is there any public risk in terms of where he’s at in his situation? That is not going to be decided by our organization. That’s going to be left up to the discussion panels that we have been a part of.’’
Neither the NFL nor the NFLPA would say Friday what, if any, advice was being given to Nicks and the third player with MRSA regarding any intentions they might have of playing in Sunday’s game.
There has been no discussion between the league and players union regarding the possible cancellation of the game, according to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello. The NFLPA did, however, express concern about the MRSA issue.
“We have been involved in an ongoing review of the MRSA incidents in Tampa Bay initiated by the concerns we had about the manner in which team officials responded to these cases,” NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said in a statement.
“We advised the NFL and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that an outside expert should be brought in to assess the situation and we are pleased with their decision to take that recommendation. ...This underscores the need for a League-wide, comprehensive and standardized infectious disease protocol. It also calls for improved accountability measures on health and safety issues by the NFL over the clubs.”
The union also planned to reach out to the Eagles to offer medical guidance and regular updates as they prepare to fly to Tampa for Sunday’s game.
Bucs players, meanwhile, expressed concern about the continued problems the team is experiencing with MRSA infections, though several said Friday that Anderson’s visit helped put them at ease.
“Talking to one of the best specialists in the country today, we learned how common (MRSA) actually is,’’ veteran wide receiver Vincent Jackson said. “It’s a germ like anything else that’s around in any environment.
“And the fact that we have had a couple of cases here — they can be cured. There’s different medicines to take care of it and we’re using the best people at our disposal, so we’re confident that if anything comes up we’re going to address it.’’
The Bucs had their training facility professionally cleaned twice in a matter of days after Nicks’ and Tynes’ infections were discovered, but there are no plans to have another cleaning done.
Instead, the Bucs plan to immediately incorporate what Dominik referred to as a source-control program that calls for each player and staff member to make regular use of skin disinfectants.
Discovering the original source of the MRSA infections is difficult, if not impossible, Anderson said. He was certain, though, that Nicks’ and Tynes’ infections were not related.
“We still don’t know about the third one yet — we still need additional information about the specific MRSA we are dealing with there — but we can definitively say that the first two cases were not related to each other,’’ Anderson said.
Anderson said he could neither prove nor rule out that the Bucs’ facility is the source of the infections. He did say it was not uncommon for the infection to recur as it has in Nicks’ left foot.
“The reality is that often times when MRSA gets into the bone, antibiotic therapy alone is not enough to cure it,’’ Anderson said. “That indicates you may require surgical procedure to definitively remove that infection.’’
Tynes, who contracted MRSA on his right big toe, has already had surgery to remove the infection and continues to receive intravenous antibiotic treatments through a PICC line.
Nicks received only antibiotic therapy for his initial MRSA infection. Whether he was planning to have surgery to treat the recurrence remained uncertain Friday, when neither the Bucs nor his agent responded to questions regarding that option.
The possible loss of Nicks and a third player is the latest setback for a team off to an 0-4 start, but second-year coach Greg Schiano said the team is prepared for whatever moves it might have to make to replace them.
“You only have 53 guys on the active roster, so that’s who we can choose from,’’ Schiano said.“I don’t know what the final outcome of all this is going to be, but we do have flexibility. That’s why you train guys. So, come Sunday, we’ll go out and play Buc football, whether it’s the first-team guys, second-team guys or some mix-and-match of both. That’s the plan.”