TAMPA — Bucs rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks was worried about a sore on his body Thursday.
As he had been instructed, he brought it to the attention of team doctors. A culture was taken and revealed what everyone likely feared: MRSA, the severe staph infection resistant to most antibiotics that continues to infect members of the Buccaneers.
On Friday, less than 24 hours after the team announced guard Carl Nicks had a recurrence of the staph infection in his left foot, general manager Mark Dominik neither confirmed nor denied multiple media reports that Banks was the third Buc to contract MRSA over the past two months.
But Banks was the only player absent from practice Friday who previously had not been on the injury report. He is listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the Eagles with an "illness."
"This player did a great job of alerting us," Dominik said.
But the latest MRSA case called into question if One Buc Place is a safe work environment and had the NFL players' union gathering facts to make sure conditions are safe for Sunday's game at Raymond James Stadium.
In an effort to allay fears of players, coaches and employees, the Bucs flew in Dr. Deverick Anderson, co-director of the Duke Infection Control Outreach Network.
"We're here to, obviously, report we did have a third case of MRSA within this organization," Dominik said in a joint news conference Friday with Anderson.
Two Bucs contracted MRSA in August. Kicker Lawrence Tynes was told after seeking a second opinion on an ingrown toenail from a New York hospital. He is still receiving antibiotics via an intravenous line. Nicks missed all of the preseason and the first two regular-season games.
Nicks was told Thursday his infection had recurred. Anderson said in cases such as Nicks', surgery is often a necessity.
"The reality is oftentimes when MRSA gets into the bone, then therapy alone is not enough to actually cure it," he said. "So typically in that scenario … that indicates you may require a surgical procedure to definitively remove that infection."
Although he has not examined Tynes, Anderson said Tynes and Nicks did not spread the infection to each other. But Anderson said he did not have enough information to determine if Banks' infection is similar to the strain contracted by Tynes and Nicks.
MRSA can spread through barely noticeable skin openings or shared equipment or towels that come into contact with skin.
Last week, the players union filed a grievance against the Bucs on behalf of Tynes, who was placed on the nonfootball injury list instead of injured reserve. While Tynes is being paid his salary, he is not receiving benefits such as matching 401(k) contributions nor accruing service time toward a pension.
The grievance addresses "significant concerns about the manner in which that player and perhaps other players' safety was handled by the team," union executive director DeMaurice Smith said last week.
It alleges Tynes was not cultured for MRSA by the team, causing a delay in treatment of more than two weeks. Nicks was placed on a battery of antibiotics immediately.
"This underscores the need for a leaguewide, comprehensive and standardized infectious disease protocol," Smith said. "It also calls for improved accountability measures on health and safety issues by the NFL over the clubs."
Bucs players said Friday's question-and-answer session with Anderson was helpful.
"Of course, something so serious like this, you're scared and concerned," cornerback Leonard Johnson said. "But we had one of the top doctors come in and talk with us. That put a lot of guys' minds at ease, especially mine."
Despite having the only three known players diagnosed with MRSA among 32 NFL teams, Anderson said Bucs players were at no more risk than other teams.
"Based on my observations, I didn't think there was anything very high risk," Anderson said. "I think that football in and of itself, there's a known risk factor for MRSA and MRSA infection in general. So the fact that a case or even two and now three cases occurred does not necessarily mean in and of itself that this is at any higher risk than any other football location in the country.
"I can say I believe that it is a safe environment for players and staff."
Asked why the Bucs are the only team with three MRSA cases, Anderson said: "I don't know."
Smith said the union is working with the NFL to assess the situation. Most likely, Sunday's game will be played. Anderson said he doesn't believe there is any additional danger to players.
"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," Smith said in a statement Friday.
"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. We have also been in regular contact with the player representatives from Tampa Bay. We will reach out to the Philadelphia Eagles player representatives today and provide them with our best medical guidance and regular updates from the outside experts."
Banks, a second-round pick from Mississippi State, has seen playing time when opponents use three receivers. Nicks, a Pro Bowl guard, could be looking at missing more games or possibly the rest of the season if surgery is required. Tynes likely is out for the season.
"They're concerned for each other," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. "Out of anything, good can come. This team's coming together, and we're going to stick behind our guys that are sick, stick together for each other.
"Adversity reveals character, and I think some good character is coming out of this."
Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report.