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SKIN INFECTIONS- A Formidable Opponent For Wrestlers

Updated: Mar 29, 2022

A wrestler enjoys the challenge of taking on a tough opponent. A common, unexpected formidable opponent that causes serious problems for wrestlers is skin infections: they are an unfortunate part of the sport.

Skin infections are not limited to just a few athletes. According to the NCAA Injury Surveillance System, these infections are responsible for 20% of time-loss injuries in wrestling. Those are pretty significant numbers for wrestlers to contend with!

In addition to a long healing process and some physical discomfort, skin infections can be emotionally distressing. If a skin infection prevents a wrestler from competing in the sport they love or if visible lesions make them self-conscious, these athletes can become depressed.

Infections can occur in a variety of ways. As wrestling involves continuous physical contact and collisions, breaks or cracks in skin integrity can be infected with bacteria, fungus, or viruses. A wrestler can also contract an infection through indirect contact. For example, bacteria on the skin of an infected wrestler can come into contact with a wrestling mat and be transferred to another wrestler. One of the most common surfaces to contract skin infections is wrestling mats.

Luckily, these infections can be treated. Here are the most common types of skin infections associated with wrestling and how to treat them.

We'll start with Viral infections.

  1. Herpes Simplex

  2. Molluscum Contagiosum (poxvirus)

Quick Facts:

  • About 40% of infections are viral

  • Very Contagious! In an outbreak, all team members have a 30% chance of getting sick.

Herpes Simplex (also known as herpetic lesions, herpes zoster, herpes gladiatorium, cold sores/fever blisters) are viral infections transmitted by direct contact and may appear ANYWHERE ON THE BODY. During wrestling, this infection can only be contracted through skin-to-skin contact, commonly through head-to-head wrestling or by locking up with your opponent. A shocking 30% of high school wrestlers and 40% of college wrestlers contract this type of infection.

The acute vs the recurrent kind

  • Once infected with the herpes virus, the virus doesn't leave your body, so it can reoccur.

  • While herpes outbreaks can be treated and prevented with medication, they are easily spread.

What's it like:

  • Initial infections are usually more severe and last longer than recurrences.

  • First-time infections may include:

  1. sore throat

  2. Fever

  3. Swollen lymph nodes

  4. vesiculopapular lesion (sores, papules, collection of fluid into vesicles - small sacs with fluid inside)

  5. Malaise (unease - feeling tired or hungover, common during the incubation period)

  • Recurrent infections will include a typical vesicuopapular rash. In most instances, other symptoms are minimal in the wrestler with recurrent herpes rash.

How to get it:

  • Skin–to–skin contact

Where it's found:

  • Most commonly on the head, neck, and face

Return to play guidelines:

  • During an initial outbreak, you'll need to take an oral antiviral for 10-14 days as prescribed by a doctor

  • In recurrent outbreaks, oral antiviral medication must be taken for at least 120 hours (5 days).

  • Symptoms such as fever, swollen lymph nodes, malaise (feeling ill), etc. may be absent.

  • Existing lesions must have a dry crust (scab), with no oozing or discharge, and no new blisters developed in the past 72 hours (3 days)

  • Please note: active, wet lesions cannot be covered to allow participation

  • To reduce the possibility of outbreaks and spreading to other wrestlers, wrestlers who have a history of this infection should take oral medication every day throughout the entire season.

Molluscum Contagiosum is an infection caused by a pox virus. The result of the infection is usually a benign, mild skin disease characterized by lesions (growths) that may appear anywhere on the body.

What it's like:

  • Lesions are usually skin tone, white, or pink in color.

  • These lesions usually have a dimple or pit in the center, are hard and smooth, and are 2-5mm in length.

  • Itchy, sore, red, or swollen are common

  • They can appear in clusters or by themselves.

How to get it:

  • Skin–to–skin contact

  • Clothing, headgear, mouthpieces, knee pads, mats, towels, shoes, razors, and bars of soap are examples.

  • You can spread it to other parts of their body by touching or scratching an infected Mollusca.

  • The virus only lives on the top layer of skin, so once the Mollusca is gone, the virus will also be gone.

Where it's found

  • Anywhere on the body – it is usually not found on the soles of the feet or palms of the hand.

Return to play guidelines:

  • It is important to curet (scrape) any lesions at least 24 hours in advance of participation.

  • Any lesions should be covered with a gas-permeable membrane. These bandages can then be covered with pre-wrap or tape.

Next, we'll talk about Fungal Infections.

Ringworm (Tinea Corporis Gladiatorum)

This condition is caused by a fungus, not a worm. Ringworm is one of the most common skin infections wrestlers must grapple with. During wrestling season, ringworm can occur in epidemics, with an average alarming infection rate of 31%.

Ringworm is a fungus that can affect any part of the body, but is most common on the body (tinea corporis), on the scalp (tinea capitis), on the feet (tinea pedis, or 'athlete's foot'), or on the groin (tinea cruris, or 'jock itch').

What's it like:

  • Redness in an area on the skin with a darker red perimeter almost like a ring

  • Flaky reddened skin

  • Itchy

  • Raised spots or pimples

  • Rash

How you get it:

  • Skin–to–skin contact

  • Organisms found on inanimate objects, such as shoes, knee pads, headgear, mats, weight room equipment, towels, bar soap, razors, etc.

Where it's found:

  • Usually on the head, neck, and arms.

Return to play guidelines:

  • Oral/topical Fungicide treatment for 72 hours for skin lesions EXCEPT on scalp. Scalp lesions are the same treatment for 14 days.

  • lesions must be covered with a gas-permeable dressing as well as a wrap and tape to hold on the bandage and for more coverage.

  • Note that topical steroid Hydrocortisone is ineffective and often aggravates the condition. If your doctor prescribes a steroid cream, ask him to change it.

And finally, we will talk about Bacterial Infections

Impetigo is a superficial bacterial infection of the skin. It is highly contagious and MAY NOT be covered for competition without treatment.

What's it like:

  • Red sores.

  • Sores often pop and leave a yellow discharge and yellow crust.

  • itchy

  • Blisters filled with fluid

  • Swollen lymph nodes (adenopathy)

How you get it:

  • Skin-to-skin contact with people who have infected sores or wounds

  • Through mucus from the nose or throat, such as sneezing or coughing.

  • The bacteria may also be spread by people who don't currently have symptoms but carry the bacteria in their mucus, throat, or skin.

  • Objects such as shoes, knee pads, headgear, mats, towels, bar soap, razors, etc. have bacteria on them.

  • A wound that isn't properly washed/cared for.

Where it's found:

  • Usually on the face and neck.

Return to Play Guidelines:

  • No new skin lesions for at least 48 hours (2 days)

  • Completion of a 72 hour (3 days) course of directed antibiotic therapy

  • No further drainage from the wound

  • Active lesions MAY NOT be covered for competition

  • If symptoms do not improve in 72 hours re-consult a physician.

Folliculitis, Furuncles, Carbuncles-

Folliculitis is a bacterial infection ( most commonly Staphylococcus aureus ) of the hair follicles. It appears in areas of high friction and perspiration. Furuncles (boils) and carbuncles (larger boils) are complications of this infection. Active infections MAY NOT be covered for competition.

What's it like:

  • Pimples or pustules around a hair follicle - these may crust over

  • Rash

  • Itching

  • Folliculitis lesion: red or white bumps at the base of the hair follicles, especially in areas that have been shaved, taped, or abraded

  • Furuncle lesion: tender, red, nodular swelling

  • Carbuncle lesion: when multiple furuncles join, a mass of pus-filled tissue develops with localized redness and swelling. A fever also may be preset.

How you get it:

  • Skin–to–skin contact from people with infected wounds or sores

  • Through mucus from the nose or throat – sneezing or coughing.

  • The bacteria may also be spread through people who do not currently have symptoms but do carry the bacteria in their throat, mucus, or on their skin.

  • Bacteria on inanimate objects such as shoes, knee pads, headgear, mats, towels, bar soap, razors, etc.

  • Open wounds with improper hygiene

Where it's found:

  • on your neck, groin, or genital area

Return to Play Guidelines:

  • Complete 72 hours (3 days) antibiotic course

  • No further drainage from the wound

  • No new lesions for at least 48 hours. Any remaining dry, scabbed lesions should be covered during competition

MRSA aka Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus

MRSA is a severe bacterial infection that common antibiotics cannot treat. Lesions caused by MRSA are often mistaken for spider bites. The infection is highly contagious and potentially dangerous. Active lesions may not be covered for competition.

What's it like:

  • itching

  • Pain.

  • Fever.

  • Adenopathy (swollen lymph nodes)

  • Warmth

  • It starts as small pustules and grows into larger pustules or abscesses with redness, swelling, and possibly black marks

  • Other symptoms may include systemic infections symptoms such as fever, fatigue, etc

How you get it:

  • Skin–to–skin contact from people with infected wounds or sores

  • Through mucus from the nose or throat – sneezing or coughing.

  • You can also spread the bacteria by having it in your throat, mucus, or on your skin even if you don't have symptoms.

  • Inanimate objects like shoes, knee pads, headgear, mats, towels, bar soap, razors, whirlpools, saunas, lockers, etc. can harbor bacteria.

  • Open wounds with improper hygiene

Where it's found:

  • Usually on legs and arms

Return to Play Guidelines:

  • Completion of 72-hour (3 days) course of directed antibiotic therapy.

  • No further drainage from the wound

  • No new skin lesions for at least 48 hours (2 days)

  • Inactive, dry, healing lesions need to be covered for competition



WRESTLING SKIN HYGIENE Is Crucial To staying on the mat. LEARN WHY!

Bringing home the hardware

In discussing some of these measures, we aim to reduce skin infection, educate our community, and raise the bar for the standards we set for wrestling hygiene. By preventing skin infections, we'll keep wrestlers on the mat so they can bring home that hardware! The mission of Wrestling Savvy is to educate the general public and the wrestling community at all levels. We appreciate your sharing, comments, and subscriptions.

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