Among youth in general, athletes are at particular risk of contracting skin infections. These can range from uncomfortable fungal rashes to lifelong viral infections, and life threatening bacterial contamination. Football and other rough sports that lead to abrasions and wrestling that requires lots of skin on skin contact are especially high risk. However, all athletes who engage in sports that involve sharing equipment and facilities can contract skin diseases as well.
Even when a cure is possible, prevention is far preferable. Widespread outbreaks can seriously disrupt athletic activities, give a school a bad reputation, and lead to serious health consequences for particularly susceptible students. This means coaches and athletes should be aware of the symptoms of common skin conditions. That way, appropriate measures can be taken to isolate contagious individuals and sterilize any contaminated surfaces or equipment.
The skin colonizing Trichophyton rubrum organism is the most common culprit in cases of fungal skin rashes. The symptoms of tinea vary depending on where the fungus is located on the body and the stage of the infestation. Inflammation, redness and itching are typical. The skin may also become flaky or scaly. With ringworm on the hands or torso, the rash is often easy to identify since it spreads in a circular pattern with a center of dead skin and a raised perimeter that may look slightly blistered. However, the same fungus may cause everything from jock itch to athlete’s foot. Skin contact and sharing of towels or clothing can spread the fungus rapidly between athletes. Anti-fungal creams are typically effective in killing the fungi, but treatment can take some time.
Transmission of herpes simplex (the virus that causes cold sores) is extremely common in the sport of wrestling. These red lesions often occur around the mucous membranes of the nose and mouth, but they can appear on other areas of the skin as well. The red sores develop into clusters of blisters. These eventually burst and scab over. This scab may be red, brown, or yellow depending on the stage of healing. Herpes spreads very rapidly among sparring partners, so infected athletes should not practice or compete during an active outbreak. Anti-viral medications can be used to suppress and limit the expression of herpes. When the disease is in remission, it is no longer contagious. However, there is no cure and even team mates who show no immediate symptoms may have been infected.
MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is the most dangerous skin infection athletes are prone to contracting. These bacteria may cause symptoms of impetigo – a red, itchy rash that often blisters and develops yellow/gold crusts or scabs. The skin lesions may also be red and raw. Heat and humidity create an ideal environment for the spread of impetigo and it is highly contagious. If the staph bacteria are resistant to methicillin and other commonly prescribed antibiotics, they may spread throughout the body and cause symptoms severe enough to require hospitalization.