Written By: Kathryn Mirabella
When preventing athletes from skin infection, the best defense is a good offense.
Whether you are a weekend warrior or an Olympian, participating in sports can put you at a unique risk for skin infections. Close quarters, shared equipment, frequent skin-to-skin contact, sweating, and an increase in cuts and abrasions all increase the chance of developing an infection. But with the right information, many of these infections are preventable. Don’t let a skin infection take you out of the game!
In the locker room:
Just because you hit the showers after a practice or workout doesn’t mean you are safe from skin infections. The locker room provides a warm moist environment that can allow infectious fungi and bacteria to thrive. One such infection is “Hot tub folliculitis,” an itchy rash of raised red bumps caused by the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can survive in warm water. As its nickname suggests, people are most frequently exposed to this infection in hot tubs and whirlpools. Avoid entering a hot tub unless you are sure the water has been adequately treated to prevent bacterial growth.
Fungi can also thrive in the warm moist environment of a locker room. Two types of fungal infections are frequently seen in athletes: tinea corporis and tinea pedis. Tinea corporis, or “ringworm,” is a highly contagious fungal infection characterized by round red scaly patches of skin. It is spread by contact with infected persons or surfaces with which an infected person has come in contact. To prevent infection, shower with antimicrobial soap, wear moisture-wicking clothes, wash clothes and towels after every use, and wash sports bags frequently. Do not share towels with others. Tinea pedis, commonly referred to as athlete’s foot, is a type of fungal infection that occurs frequently in between the toes or in a moccasin-type pattern on the feet. Tinea pedis can occur in all types of athletes, but distance runners are especially at risk.3 Avoid walking barefoot in the locker room or showers, and be sure to keep your feet dry by wearing ventilated shoes and using drying powder.
In the gym and weight room:
Weights and other shared athletic equipment can also harbor infection-causing bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus. Often referred to as “staph,” it is a type of bacteria that naturally occurs on the skin and in the airways in a some people. Infections from bacteria have several different manifestations, including impetigo and folliculitis. Bacterial infections generally appear swollen, red, painful, often have pus or drainage, or in the case of impetigo, a distinctive “honey-colored” crusting. While most bacterial infections can be easily treated by topical and oral antibiotics, MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a particular strain of Staph that is especially resistant to typical antibiotics, and a MRSA infection could possibly result in hospitalization. These bacteria can enter the body through a break or cut in the skin’s surface and are spread through skin-to-skin contact or contact with drainage from an infected wound. Bacterial infections can be spread in the weight room when equipment is not disinfected properly. Wipe down all equipment with an antibacterial wipe before and after every use to keep yourself and your teammates safe.
On the field, court, or mat:
In the heat of competition, it to ignore the bumps, cuts, scrapes, and bruises that come with competitive play. However, these seemingly small injuries can open the door for infections, and open, uncovered wounds are especially vulnerable. The frequent skin-to-skin contact that happens during a game or match also puts athletes at particular risk for viral infections. The three primary types of viral infections that athletes and coaches should be aware of are verruca (warts), molluscum contagiosum, and herpes simplex virus (HSV). All three types of viral infections are spread by skin-to-skin contact. Warts and molluscum contagiosum can occur anywhere on the skin and frequently appear as white or flesh-colored “bumps.” HSV infections frequently occur around the mouth, where they are referred to as “cold sores.” A HSV outbreak is characterized by redness and small blisters filled with clear fluid. However, herpes infections they can occur on the rest of the body as well, and this type of herpes infection occurs so frequently in wrestlers that it has its own name: is referred to as herpes gladiatorum, or “mat herpes.” To prevent infections during the game, make sure all cuts and scrapes are covered before game time, ensure all equipment is disinfected and be sure to shower and disinfect yourself, and all equipment immediately afterward.
The American Academy of Dermatology offers some excellent tips below to help athletes and coaches prevent infections and keep athletes healthy.
- Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage until healed.A cut or scrape weakens the skin’s defense and allows germs that cause infections to enter.
- Wear moisture-wicking clothes.This helps keep the athlete’s skin dry helps prevent infectious fungi and bacteria from growing.
- Wear sandals in the locker room.Wearing sandals or other shoes helps reduce infections on the feet.
- Shower after every practice and game.In addition, athletes should use an antimicrobial soap and wash their entire body.
- Do not share personal care items.Athletes should always use a clean towel after showering and use their own towels, soaps, razors and other personal care items.
- Wash clothes and towels after each use.Sports bags should also be washed, as germs that cause infections can remain in the bags and grow.
- Disinfect equipment, including protective gear, daily.For proper disinfection, follow the manufacturers’ instructions.
- Perform regular skin checks.Athletes should check their skin daily, especially those in high-risk sports, such as wrestling. Look for any changes, such as cuts, sores, redness, swelling and pus, and report any changes to an athletic trainer or doctor.