If you coach a little league team, parent an active athlete or are an avid sportsperson yourself, it is important to know what health risks may be present during athletic events other than shin splints and bruised egos.
Close physical contact and a heightened chance of bleeding present a chance for disease transmission unless appropriate precautions are taken.
Athletes, trainers, coaches, parents, and teachers alike must know how to prevent the transmission of bloodborne viruses such as HIV and hepatitis B or C, or even skin-to-skin infections.
These infectious diseases, and others, pose complex problems for athletes of all ages and everyone involved in sports activities. But following standard precautions to prevent bloodborne, skin-to-skin, and respiratory infections simplifies and safeguards sports events and ensures that everyone can participate safely.
Sports and Standard Precautions
Universal use of standard precautions is critical because many children, adolescents, and adults who are infected with viruses, such as HIV and hepatitis B or C, may not even know they have these viruses. Estimates vary, but some predict that more than half of those infected with these viruses do not know they’re infected.
Standard precautions protect everyone, from those whose diseases have been identified, to those that have not yet been diagnosed, to those not infected. When everyone follows standard precautions, no one who has an infection needs to be treated differently. Essentially, standard precautions are the great equalizer; when followed, they allow everyone to fully and safely participate in sporting events.
The more serious bloodborne viruses that athletes need to be aware of are: HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. There is no recommendation that people infected with these viruses not be allowed to participate in most sports.
Although HIV and hepatitis C are not vaccine-preventable, there is a safe and effective vaccine that prevents hepatitis B infection.
According to the NCAA Injury Surveillance System, “skin infections accounted for almost one-third of the practice time loss events” in wrestling during the 2001-2002 season. As a result, the NCAA recommends that coaches, teachers and other sports officials be able to identify symptoms of skin infections. Symptoms may include:
- Oozing lesions
Skin infections may include:
- Bacterial skin infections including impetigo, erysipelas, carbuncle, staphylococcal disease, folliculitis and hidradenitis suppurativa.
- Parasitic skin infections including pediculosis and scabies.
- Viral skin infections including herpes simplex, chickenpox and molluscum contagiosum.
- Fungal skin infections including ringworm.
In some cases, such as fungal infections, the skin conditions can be covered with a securely attached bandage or non-permeable patch to allow participation in the sporting event.
In addition to identification and treatment of individuals with skin infections, prevention can occur through proper routine cleaning of all equipment, including mats and shared common areas, such as locker rooms.
Anyone with an infectious respiratory illness, such as flu, or whooping cough, or perhaps tuberculosis, should be prohibited from playing to prevent the spread of infections that are transmitted through respiratory routes.
Check back over the next couple of weeks for Parts 2 and 3 in this sports series. Part 2 gets into specifics on bloodborne pathogens, and Part 3 provides guidelines for sports teams to follow before, during, and after each event.
See PKIDs’ Infectious Disease Workshop for more information.
Photo courtesy of University of Exeter