The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


December 17, 2013

Wrestlling a virus | Athletes, districts should be wary of 'mat herpes'

JOHNSTOWN — A pin, technical fall or decision puts an end to a wrestling match. So, too, can a skin disease that affects its athletes.

Two grapplers in the Westmont Hilltop School District have been diagnosed with herpes gladiatorum, also known as “mat herpes.” As a precaution, the district shut down its wrestling program for varsity and junior high wrestlers for eight days.

United School District also shuttered its program for eight days, although no United wrestler displayed symptoms of the disease.

“We are shutting down as a precaution,” said Cullen Stokes, United’s athletic director.

Skin diseases are common in the wrestling community, probably more so than any other sport, because of the amount of direct skin-to-skin contact among athletes.

The Hilltop athletes have been taking medication for the virus, caused by the herpes simplex complex.

Wrestlers regularly are checked for skin diseases – impetigo and ringworm being the most common – but these two cases apparently slipped through the cracks. The disease usually manifests itself as lesions on the face, arms, legs or torso within eight days of exposure. It also can break out in or around the eyes.

We can’t stress enough that school districts should do all they can to prevent outbreaks of such a serious disease.

According to the Allegheny County Health Department, good personal hygiene and thorough cleaning and disinfecting of all equipment are essential to helping prevent an outbreak of the virus.

Wrestlers should not share their soap or towels with other wrestlers, and all towels should be washed with detergent and bleach after each use.

The athletes also should keep their hands as clean as possible, washing with soap and warm water for at least 15 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand rub after all practices and competitions.

Wrestlers should avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth until their hands have been washed.

Anyone who finds a sore on his body should not squeeze or pick at it, because drainage can be infectious.

It’s also a good idea for athletic trainers to clean and disinfect all practice and competition gear every day, using viricidal, fungicidal or bacterial disinfectants. Close attention should be paid to mats, locker rooms and shower areas.

Mops and cleaning cloths also should be laundered daily in detergents.

Although the lesions eventually will heal and infected wrestlers will be cleared to return to the mats, the disease will never leave the body.

“The virus remains alive in a dormant state in nerve cells in the body, usually around the initial infection site,” said Dr. Daniel Wehner, chairman of Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center’s emergency department. “Stress causes the virus to be reactivated.”

We urge all school districts to be vigilant to the ever-present threat of herpes gladiatorum and take all necessary precautions to prevent their wrestlers from contacting the virus. Student athletes have enough to deal with without always worrying about contacting a preventable virus.

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