Your Student Athlete

27 08 2013

Kids are back in school and signing up for sports.

Some parents wonder about their infected children playing sports and possibly infecting others in the process.  Parents also wonder how concerned they should be about their children becoming infected from other players living with undiagnosed or undisclosed infections.

Playing sports can be risky in many ways and part of that risk is the potential to become infected with all sorts of germs.

Parents of children living with diagnosed infectious diseases worry that they may be responsible for infecting another child.  They wonder if they should inform the coach or the school.  They worry that the adults in charge don’t really follow standard precautions, thereby increasing the risk of infections.  They want their kids to enjoy life and they want to do the right thing.

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement on this dilemma in December, 1999: HIV and Other Blood-Borne Viral Pathogens in the Athletic Setting. In it, the Academy made clear, “Because of the low probability of transmission of their infection to other athletes, athletes infected with HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C should be allowed to participate in all sports.”

The AAP’s Redbook still supports this policy.

Participation, however, assumes all athletes and coaches will follow standard precautions to prevent and minimize exposure to bloodborne viruses.

There is no reason to exclude any student from sports if they’re infected with HIV, HBV or HCV.  Nor is there a reason to disclose the infection.  There are many people living with undiagnosed infections, so it is more prudent to ensure everyone is practicing standard precautions rather than simply excluding those with known infections and not properly protecting all athletes from undiagnosed infections.

Dr. Steven J. Anderson, a pediatrics professor at the University of Washington and a team doctor for many high school athletic teams, ballet companies and the U.S. Olympic Diving Team, suggests children should have access to any sport, except boxing, which the Academy opposes for all youths because of its physical risks.

Pediatricians can avoid reporting a student’s infection, the Academy noted, by making it clear on any participation forms that they support the Academy’s position that all students can participate in all sports and that pediatricians must respect an athlete’s right to confidentiality.

But strict compliance with standard precautions is critical for this open embrace of all athletes, regardless of their infectious status.  Dr. Anderson notes that, as a parent, he would make sure that there is a plan in place to handle blood spills, including latex gloves, occlusive dressings, appropriate sterilizing solutions, disposal bags and even a printed protocol for coaches, athletes and officials.

Dr. Anderson does feel that students with infectious hepatitis A (spread through close physical contact with contaminated food, water or skin) or with liver or spleen enlargement should be restricted from contact or collision sports until the liver or spleen has returned to normal size, and the person is no longer contagious.

An article that ran in 2004 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine talked about possible methods of transmission in sports and reported incidents of transmission:

Bleeding or oozing injuries could, in theory, transmit the virus through the mucous membrane or injured skin of other athletes.  This risk is considered extremely low.  However, contact and collision sports like wrestling or boxing increase that risk.  The risk goes down a bit for those playing basketball or soccer, and those playing sports with little physical contact, such as tennis or baseball, are at the lowest risk.

It has been suggested that bloodborne infections may be transmitted through sharing a water container, because bleeding around the mouth is common in contact sport.  Therefore it is recommended that water containers should be available individually for each player in contact sports. Athletes should use squeeze water bottles which they do not put in their mouth.

Bloodborne infections can be transmitted through blood doping. There is also a risk from sharing needles which may be associated with drug abuse in sport. Injectable drugs used in sports include steroids, hormones, and vitamins.

Three separate cases of HIV infection associated with sharing needles among bodybuilders have been reported, two in the United States and one in France.  It has also been reported that three soccer players from one amateur club were infected with HCV as a result of sharing a syringe to inject intravenous vitamin complexes. Syringes have often been shared by athletes who inject vitamins minutes before a game.

A 1993 study estimated that, in the United States, there were one million people who were either current or past users of anabolic androgenic steroids. Of these, 50% were intramuscular drug users, and about 25% had shared needles. Therefore it seems that the risk of transmission in this way may be considerable among athletes, especially bodybuilders.

So, if your family is getting involved in sports, it would be worth your time to:

  • Get caught up on all vaccinations
  • Practice standard precautions
  • Wash your hands a lot or, if hands aren’t visibly soiled, use alcohol handrubs
  • Don’t share needles with anyone for any purpose




Sports and Infectious Diseases – Part 3 of 3

17 04 2013

Guidelines for Before, During and After Each Sports Event

The NCAA and NATA and other sports organizations carefully spell out the standards athletic organizers, including coaches, teachers and others, should follow before, during and after an 558354119_c856022b30athletic event.

Before the Event Begins

As part of the “pre-game” education program, NATA encourages trainers to:

  • Educate athletes about bloodborne pathogens.
  • Discuss the ethical and social issues related to bloodborne pathogens.
  • Review the importance of prevention programs, including standard precautions and immunizations.
  • Educate athletes about the signs and symptoms of hepatitis B [and hepatitis C] and HIV.

Make sure the athletes know the rules concerning standard precautions, including reporting all wounds immediately if and when they occur.  This is part of the coach or trainer’s critical pre-game education.

Before the opening whistle, cover all wounds, abrasions, cuts or weeping wounds that may serve as a source of bleeding or as a port of entry for bloodborne pathogens.  Remember, protection is a two-way street.  No one wants germs entering or exiting these wounds or abrasions. The “cover” or bandages should be able to withstand the demands of competition.

Wear protective equipment over high-risk areas where bruising commonly occurs, such as elbows or hands.

Make sure the necessary equipment and supplies needed to comply with standard precautions are available, including latex [or other non-permeable] gloves, biohazard containers, disinfectants, bleach solutions, antiseptics, containers for soiled equipment and uniforms and sharps containers.

During the Event

Underscore the importance of early recognition and control of any cuts or bruises that bleed.  Coaches and athletes alike should be prepared for appropriate cleaning and covering procedures and changing of blood-saturated clothes.

Require all athletes to report all wounds immediately.  Players with active bleeding should be removed from the event as soon as practical.  Return to play should be determined by appropriate staff.

All personnel involved with sports should be trained in basic first aid and infection control, including standard precautions:

  • They should use sterile latex [or other non-permeable] gloves for direct contact with blood or body fluids containing blood.
  • Gloves should be changed after treating each individual participant.  After glove removal, hands should be washed.
  • Any surface or equipment contaminated with spilled blood should be cleaned with gloves on.  The spill should be contained in as small an area as possible.  After the blood is removed, the surface should be cleaned with a disinfectant or decontaminant.
  • Proper disposal procedures should be practiced to prevent injuries caused by needles, scalpels and other sharp devices.
  • Any equipment or uniforms soiled with blood should be laundered in accordance with hygienic methods.

Any life-saving equipment should be maintained in accordance with infection control guidelines.

After the Event

When the game is over, any wounds, cuts, and abrasions should be tended to.

Coaches and athletic personnel should constantly review the level of knowledge and implementation of standard precautions policies and recommend revisions and retraining where necessary.

Appropriate policy development with legal and administrative assistance of existing OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and other legal guidelines and conference or school rules and regulations should be considered on an as needed basis.

Medical Records and Confidentiality

While many experts feel an athlete should not have to “disclose” an infection to a coach, trainer or teacher, some athletes may decide personally to share information about a bloodborne viral infection.

The security, record-keeping and confidentiality requirements and concerns that relate to athletes’ medical records generally apply equally to those portions of athletes’ medical records.

Because social stigma is sometimes attached to individuals infected with HIV or viral hepatitis, athletic officials should pay particular care to the security, record-keeping and confidentiality requirements that govern the medical records for which they have a professional obligation to see, use, keep, interpret, record, update or otherwise handle.

An Infected Trainer, Teacher or Coach

A coach, teacher or trainer infected with a bloodborne pathogen should practice his or her profession while taking into account all professionally, medically and legally relevant issues raised by the infection.

Depending on individual circumstances, the infected coach, trainer or official must take reasonable steps to avoid potential and identifiable risks to his or her own health and the health of his or her team.

More information may be found at PKIDs’ Infectious Disease Workshop

Image courtesy of PShanks





Sports and Infectious Diseases – Part 2 of 3

10 04 2013

bloodborneWhat risk does an athlete with a bloodborne pathogen pose?

The American Academy of Pediatrics tackled this difficult issue in December, 1999, with a policy statement on HIV and Other Bloodborne Viral Pathogens in the Athletic Setting.  In it, the Academy made clear, “Because of the low probability of transmission of their infection to other athletes, athletes infected with HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C should be allowed to participate in all sports.”

That participation, however, assumes all athletes and coaches will follow standard precautions to prevent and minimize exposure to bloodborne viruses.  The Academy tackled each infectious disease individually:

HIV: The risk of HIV infection via skin or mucous membrane exposure to blood or other infectious bodily fluids during sports participation is very low . . . such transmission appears to require, in addition to a portal of entry, prolonged exposure to large quantities of blood.  Transmission through intact skin has not been documented: no HIV infections occurred after 2,712 such exposures in 1 large prospective study.  Transmission of HIV in sports has not been documented.  One unsubstantiated report describes possible transmission during a collision between professional soccer players.

Hepatitis B: HBV [hepatitis B virus] is more easily transmitted via exposure to infected blood than is HIV . . . the risk of infection [is] greater if the blood [is] positive for HBV e antigen . . . transmission of infection by contamination of mucous membranes or broken skin with infected blood has been documented, but the magnitude of risk has not been quantified.

Although transmission of HBV is apparently rare in sports, 2 reports document such transmission.  An asymptomatic high school sumo wrestler who had a chronic infection transmitted HBV to other members of his team.  An epidemic of HBV infection occurred through unknown means among Swedish athletes participating in track finding (orienteering).  The epidemiologists concluded that the most likely route of infection was the use of water contaminated with infected blood to clean wounds caused by branches and thorns.

An effective way of preventing HBV transmission in the athletic setting is through immunization of athletes.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children and adolescents be immunized.  Clinicians and the staff of athletic programs should aggressively promote immunization.

Hepatitis C: Although the transmission risks of HCV infection are not completely understood, the risk of infection from percutaneous [through the skin] exposure to infected blood is estimated to be 10 times greater than that of HIV but lower than that of HBV.  Transmission via contamination of mucous membranes or broken skin also probably has a risk intermediate between that for blood infected with HIV and HBV.

“There is clearly no basis for excluding any student from sports if they are infected,” said Dr. Steven J. Anderson, who was chair of the Academy’s Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness when it drafted the Academy’s policy, “and we should also try to protect the confidentiality of each athlete.”

Dr. Anderson, a pediatrics professor at the University of Washington and a team doctor for many high school athletic teams, ballet companies and the U.S. Olympic Diving Team, suggests students should have access to any sport, except boxing, which the Academy opposes for all youths because of its physical risks.

“I personally feel parents have no obligation to disclose the infectious status of their children to anyone,” said Dr. Anderson.  Strict compliance with standard precautions is critical for this open-embrace of all athletes, regardless of their infectious status.  Coaches and teachers must have a plan in place to handle blood spills, said Dr. Anderson, including latex [or non-permeable] gloves, occlusive dressings, appropriate sterilizing solutions, disposal bags and even a printed protocol for coaches, athletes and officials.

The following is an excerpt of a sample school policy, used by numerous public school districts and in compliance with ADA that addresses HIV infection:

“The privilege of participating in physical education classes, programs, competitive sports and recess is not conditional on a person’s HIV status.  School authorities will make reasonable accommodations to allow students living with HIV infection to participate in school-sponsored physical activities.

“All employees must consistently adhere to infection control guidelines in locker rooms and all play and athletic settings.  Rulebooks will reflect these guidelines.  First aid kits and standard precautions equipment must be on hand at every athletic event.

“All physical education teachers and athletic program staff will complete an approved first aid and injury prevention course that includes implementation of infection control guidelines.  Student orientation about safety on the playing field will include guidelines for avoiding HIV infection.”

In addition to the Academy, several sports and other health organizations have also weighed in on this issue.  According to the NCAA, National Football League (NFL) and World Health Organization, athletes with HIV should be permitted to participate in all competitive sports at all levels.

These organizations all endorse immunization against hepatitis B for all athletes.

The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) echoes Dr. Anderson’s suggestion that coaches, trainers, athletic directors, school officials and others take the lead in educating themselves, their teams, parents and their communities about the importance of effective disease prevention.

Trainers and coaches, they suggest, should provide the following information in age-appropriate terms to all participants before or during any competition :

  • The risk of transmission or infection during competition.
  • The risk of transmission or infection generally.
  • The availability of HIV testing (for teens and adults).
  • The availability of hepatitis B vaccination and testing (for parents, teens and adults).

“Athletic trainers who have educational program responsibility should extend educational efforts to include those, such as the athletes’ families and communities, who are directly or indirectly affected by the presence of bloodborne pathogens in athletic competitions,” the NATA stated in a position paper.

See PKIDs’ Infectious Disease Workshop for more information.

Photo courtesy of Lolie Smith





Sports and Infectious Disease – Part 1 of 3

6 04 2013

exeterIf 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.

Skin-to-Skin Infections

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:

  • Crusting
  • Scaliness
  • 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.

Respiratory Illnesses

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





Infected Kids and Sports

23 07 2012

While soccer, softball and gymnastics are a joyful rite of passage for many young children, athletic events carry a risk for all children, given the increased chance for mishaps, accidents and blood spills.

For parents of children with viral infectious diseases, including hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS, these games often present a number of stressful issues.

  • What if my child is hurt and another child is exposed to his or her blood?
  • Should I tell the coach about my child’s infectious disease if it will spur him or her to practice standard (universal) precautions?
  • What if the coach or athletic director doesn’t know or practice standard precautions?
  • Should I attend every game in case there is an accident?
  • Should my child even be playing this sport?

The American Academy of Pediatrics tackled this difficult issue in December, 1999, with a policy statement on HIV and Other BloodBorne Viral Pathogens in the Athletic Setting. (This policy was reaffirmed in 2008.) In it, the Academy made clear, “Because of the low probability of transmission of their infection to other athletes, athletes infected with HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C should be allowed to participate in all sports.”

That participation, however, assumes all athletes and coaches will follow standard precautions to prevent and minimize exposure to bloodborne viruses.

The Academy tackled each infectious disease individually.

HIV/AIDS: The risk of HIV infection through skin or mucous membrane exposure to infected blood or other infectious bodily fluids during sports events is very low. The Academy found the risk from damaged skin or mucous membrane exposure was one in 1,007 exposures or 0.1 percent.

Hepatitis B: While hepatitis B is more easily transmitted through exposure to infected blood than HIV, the Academy found only two documented sports transmission. A high school sumo wrestler with chronic hepatitis B was found to have transmitted the infection to a team member. Wrestling is the only sport that raised concern because herpes, impetigo and measles have been transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. However, there is no risk of bloodborne pathogens being contracted through wrestling, the Academy found.

An outbreak of hepatitis B occurred within an outdoor orienteering team in Sweden. Doctors believe the team members used a common cup of warm water to clean wounds caused by branches and thorns.

Hepatitis C: The risk of transmission is greater than for HIV but less than with hepatitis B. The Academy reported no documented cases of transmission in sports.

“There is clearly no basis for excluding any student from sports if they are infected,” said Dr. Steven J. Anderson, who was chair of the Academy’s Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness when it drafted the Academy’s policy, “and we should also try to protect the confidentiality of each athlete.”

Dr. Anderson, a pediatrics professor at the University of Washington and a team doctor for many high school athletic teams, ballet companies and the U.S. Olympic Diving Team, suggests children should have access to any sport, except boxing, which the Academy opposes for all youths because of its physical risks.

Pediatricians can avoid reporting a student’s infection, the Academy noted, by making it clear on any participation forms that they support the Academy’s position that all students can participate in all sports and that pediatricians must respect an athlete’s right to confidentiality.

“I personally feel parents have no obligation to disclose the infectious status of their children to anyone,” said Dr. Anderson, “that includes their own physicians! While that may seem wrong, it is felt that if standard precautions are used for blood contact or contamination, the risk of contagion is adequately reduced.”

But strict compliance with standard precautions is critical for this open-embrace of all athletes, regardless of their infectious status. “As a parent, I would make sure that there is a plan in place to handle blood spills,” said Dr. Anderson, “including latex gloves, occlusive dressings, appropriate sterilizing solutions, disposal bags and event a printed protocol for coaches, athletes and officials.

“If standard precautions are not followed, I would recommend that the coaches or instructors are queried as to their familiarity with the precautions,” he added. “If they are not familiar with or following procedures, a higher up source needs to be consulted, such as a league office or school administrator.”

Parents should also contact the school or athletic league’s physician so he or she can also act as an advocate to ensure the coaches comply with the department or organization’s safety procedures.

But the Academy’s policy may not lessen the stress some parents feel when their very young children approach a soccer field for the first time. “When children are young, parents should educate their children about the dangers of blood contact,” said Dr. Anderson. “Despite the trauma that can accompany free play, I don’t hear of too many cases where two or more bleeding children mix their blood. I would also hope that an adult would be present when children are playing and would be consulted if there were an injury.”

Dr. Anderson feels it is not necessary to disclose a child’s infectious status to a coach. “Given the low risk of infecting other children, and the high risk of being shunned or ostracized. However, I think a responsible parent would be adamant about standard precautions being in place and followed. I supposed an astute coach might make inferences if a particular parent was a zealot about blood contamination. I would read that as a message that their child was infected and that they wanted their child to participate without creating a risk for others.”

Even when a child has an HIV infection, disclosure is not a requirement, explained Dr. Anderson, stating his personal opinion. “However, if a coach is educated about the risks, the necessary precautions and can be trusted to maintain confidentiality, disclosure may be appropriate. Unfortunately, most youth sports coaches are parent volunteers, non-professionals and are unlikely to have a long-term relationship with the athlete. In such cases, I recommend that standard precautions be followed.”

Dr. Anderson contends active contact sports, such as football, are also not off limits to athletes with infectious viral hepatitis. “However, students with infectious hepatitis A (spread through close physical contact with contaminated food, water or skin) or with liver or spleen enlargement should be restricted from contact or collision sports until the liver or spleen has returned to normal size,” he added, “and the person is no longer contagious.”

One mother whose son has hepatitis B commented, “I used to worry about my son infecting other children, but eventually I decided to make sports decisions based on what my kids risked catching from others.”

This post originates from PKIDs’ website.

Image courtesy of Rugby Pioneers





Contact Sports and Skin Infections

6 02 2012

(Welcome to guest blogger Rebecca Kreston, MSPH and thanks, Rebecca, for sharing this post from your blog: bodyhorrors!)

In honor of one of the most lucrative American events that happened just yesterday, I thought I’d explore sports and infectious diseases. Specifically, contact sports and skin infections!

Since starting this blog, I’ve gathered that readers just love reading about transmissible skin infections, so what could be better than watching the Super Bowl and knowing just exactly what kind of diseases could possibly be smeared between the players of the Patriots and Giants?

There is a glut of infectious diseases that one can acquire from dabbling in combat or contact sports such as American or Aussie-style football, rugby, wrestling, and sumo. In fact, skin infections are the most common injury associated with all sports (1). All that body bashing and face-to-face smearing in contact sports does wonders for spreading skin or cutaneous infections. A number of these ailments are common to us non-athletic mortals—athlete’s foot, jock rash and ringworm (or tinea corporis). Two diseases in particular, with the marvelous potential to initiate larger epidemics within and beyond the locker room, form the focus of this article.

Herpes gladiatorum is a wonderfully evocative name used to describe an athlete’s infection with herpes simplex virus 1 (HVS-1), a terribly contagious virus that many have the misfortune of being acquainted with; it’s estimated that 65% of people will become infected with the virus by the time they reach their 40s (2). Symptoms can include painful, blistery cold sores on the face and neck, along with a sore throat, infected lymph nodes and malaise.

It’s a tricky little bugger of a virus. It can remain dormant, hiding away in nerve cells known as sensory ganglia, only to spring out on one’s face or genitals during periods of physical or emotional stress or, say, when you’re sunbathing in tropical locales on vacation. It has an uncanny sense of knowing when to erupt at the most inappropriate of times, though I’ve been unable to track down any research examining the molecular basis of how it goes about conducting this remarkable mechanism.

Most people rightfully assume that HSV-1 infection is a rather personal, intimate matter: we hear about transmission between a mother and her child, between romancing couples and so on. This makes sense considering that it’s spread by respiratory droplets or direct contact with infected lesions; you’ve really got to get up close and personal in someone’s face if you want to get a sense of what HSV-1 infection feels like (2). But given social situations with a generous amount of skin-to-skin contact with many individuals—sports, for instance—the virus will happily engage in a bit of unplanned host-hopping. As such, it has a frustrating tendency to erupt into outbreaks in sports team and during competitions.

Many athletes may sport micro-abrasions and skin breaks stemming from turf burns, powerful body-to-body collisions, facial stubble or beard burn, and shaving. Depending upon the level of protective clothing and gear, these athletes can experience substantial exposure with their opponent’s infected HSV-1 lesions, not to mention the respiratory droplets, spit and mucus that may transmit other types of infections. Charming! Among teammates, a grab-bag of infections can also be spread by sharing towels, water bottles, clothing, equipment, and hygiene and cosmetic products.

HSV-1 is considered to be particularly endemic in rugby players due to the style of the sport and the lack of protective gear (3). Its rampant presence in rugby leagues has earned it the moniker “herpes rugbiorum” or “scrum pox” (“scrum strep”, caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes, can also plague rugby players).

In rugby, the “scrum” is a type of huddle maneuver used to return the ball into play. It is a sensational way to spread HSV-1: players in the forward position interlock their heads with their opponents in facing rows before the ball is launched between them. These forwards are the most likely of their teammates to contract scrum pox due to their prominent role in scrums and the increased prospect of serious face-to-face contact. The fact that rugby players do not use protective gear, including helmets, exposes a greater part of their body to physical contact and further increases their risk.

HSV-1 regularly rears its ulcerous face on wrestlers as well. A research group checking serum samples from wrestlers to determine previous HSV 1 exposure found that 29.8% of college wrestlers had reported previous HSV infection (4).

The level of intimacy required in grappling almost makes it inevitable that something is going to be transmitted between two athletes, whether that be sweat, saliva or HSV-1. Indeed, in a 1989 outbreak in high-school wrestling camp for boys, 34% of participants were diagnosed with HSV-1 (5). Lesions commonly appeared on regions of the body most likely to encounter direct skin-to-skin contact with their opponents – 73% on the head, 42% on the extremities and 28% on the trunk of the body.

How do you tell if a wrestler is right or left-handed? Check which side of their face, head, neck and arms has the greatest amount of lesions. Athletes will tend to prominently use the most powerful sides of their body, regardless of which sport, and it will be this side that can receive the greatest amount of skin-to-skin contact with opponents.

Getting a touch of HSV-1 and sharing it with your teammates may be the least of an athlete’s problems. In 2003, a ghastly outbreak of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) emerged during a college football camp in Connecticut (6). Ten players were infected, of whom two required hospitalization. The infection was discovered to have spread due to the combination of body shaving and turf burns from the artificial grass. Infections were most commonly located at the elbow, thigh, hip, chin, forearm and knee, parts of the body most likely to incur abrasions on the turf. Those players with turf burns had a seven-fold risk of acquiring MRSA infection than those who emerged from scrimmage and active play unscathed (6). Cornerbacks and wide receivers were particularly susceptible due to their frequent body contact during drills and scrimmage play.

A quick browse through the research literature pulls up dozens of MRSA outbreaks like this. In 2002, two college football players in Los Angeles were hospitalized due to MRSA infection (7). A one-year surveillance of a football team at an unnamed major university in the southeastern United States found that 19% of the players showed evidence of nasal colonization of the bacteria at the end of the football season; though the high prevalence of MRSA among these men did not yield any active skin and soft tissue infections, it goes to show how endemic of a problem this really is (8). In 2007, six football players on a Brooklyn high school football team showed evidence of MRSA skin and soft tissue infection; the players had just recently returned from a preseason training camp (9). The infections were serious enough that they generated abscesses requiring surgical incision and drainage.

MRSA colonization of football players is apparently becoming so commonplace that some researchers have suggested using them as human sentinels for public health surveillance of outbreaks within the surrounding community (10). It is regrettably becoming a rather conventional type of emerging infection in athletes.

These infections aren’t just unseemly looking but can be disfiguring, have long-lasting effects within the body and can temporarily disqualify an athlete from practice and competition to prevent localized outbreaks. Hell, some of them can kill ya! These outbreaks can ruin seasons for the team while for salaried athletes, these kinds of infections have serious economic, professional and personal repercussions. Medical professionals recommend that players abstain from play until they’ve started antiviral medications or antibiotics, they are free of systemic symptoms – fever, malaise and lymph node swelling – and until any moist lesions have subsided. Seems reasonable, no?

Infectious diseases are always context specific and spread through particular practices. In the case of contact sports, there are several variables at play that help to spread some nasty infections. While there isn’t a lot we can do about changing how a sport is played (or can we?), coaches and referees can keep an eye out for athletes who seem ill or are showing visible evidence of infection. Fighting against poor hygiene practices and ensuring that wounds are cleaned and dressed immediately can also keep these kinds of sticky situations in line. Game on!

RESOURCES
A mission statement and guidelines on how to deal with herpes gladiatorum from the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee at the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Wrestlers filed a “herpes lawsuit” in 2008 against their coach and trainer holding them responsible for a localized HSV-1 outbreak.
In 2008, researchers discovered a unique herpes strain that only affects sumo wrestlers.

REFERENCES
1. BB Adams. (2010) Skin Infections in Athletes. Expert Rev Dermatol. 5(5): 567-577
2. R Sharma et al. (2011) Herpes Simplex in Emergency Medicine. Accessed online on Feb 2, 2012. Link.
3. BB Adams. (2000) Transmission of cutaneous infections in athletes. Br J Sports Med. 34(6): 413–414
4. B.J. Anderson (2008) Managing Herpes Gladiatorum Outbreaks in Competitive Wrestling: The 2007 Minnesota Experience. Curr Sports Med Rep. 7(6): 323-7
5. Belongia EA, Goodman JL, Holland EJ, et al. (1991) An outbreak of herpes gladiatorum at a high-school wrestling camp. N Engl J Med. 325(13): 906-10
6. EM Begier et al. (2004) A High-Morbidity Outbreak of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus among Players on a College Football Team, Facilitated by Cosmetic Body Shaving and Turf Burns. Clin Infect Dis. 39(10): 1446-1453
7. DM Nguyen et al. (2005) Recurring Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus Infections in a Football Team Emerg Infect Dis. 11(4): 526-32
8. CB Creech (2010) One-year surveillance of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus nasal colonization and skin and soft tissue infections in collegiate athletes. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 164(7): 615-20
9. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). (2009) Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus among players on a high school football team–New York City, 2007. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 58(3): 52-5
10. B Barr, M Felkner & PM Diamond. (2006) High school athletic departments as sentinel surveillance sites for community-associated methicillin-resistant staphylococcal infections. Tex Med. 102(4):56-61