Skin Infections in BJJ

Ok, let’s be honest nobody really likes talking about gym germs and mat lurgie including skin infections. But not being aware of them and generally not being open and talking about them is one of the key reasons they are more common than people like to admit and are easily spread. So this blog is going to focus on the common things that might occur and how to spot them (warning – there is also some pictures of them!).

First things first often an infection on the mat is usually nobodies fault. Grappling means you get spend lots of time in close proximity with people whilst getting really sweaty (especially as summer gets closer). Not all the sweat you come into contact with is yours and lets not even go near the random hairs that get stuck to you and where on earth they came from! This warm, moist environment is perfect for a host of thing to multiple and grow including fungus and bacteria.

Most people know about cold sores around the mouth and basically, the same virus (herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1)) causes Herpes gladiatorum, also known as mat herpes. It is transmitted by skin to skin contact and can be highly contagious. It presents as a  painful rash with clusters of painful, fluid-filled blisters, usually on the head or face, but sometimes on the arms or trunk.

herpes_labialis_-_opryszczka_wargowaIf you have it you can feel quite unwell, especially in the early stages of the infection, and can experience swollen lymph nodes, fevers, a sore throat, and headaches. The symptoms can last a couple of weeks, and the first outbreak is generally the most severe.  The other negative is that once you have the virus it never really goes away. The virus remains dormant but, every so often it can be reactivated by certain triggers, and another outbreak can occur.  Triggers vary but generally include being stressed or run down but you some people hardly ever get an outbreak whilst others have several a year.

As with cold sores, infections are generally treated with antiviral creams or tablets, such as acyclovir and famcyclovir. As well as good hygiene including hand washing (avoiding touching and spreading it) and not sharing towels etc.

Ringworm, which is also referred to as dermatophytosis, is a fungal infection of the skin. It is NOT caused by worms, and there are about 40 different types of fungi that can cause ringworm. An infection usually appears as an enlarging red ring somewhere on the body. The patches are typically red, scaly, and itchy, and can be raised. The patches are ringworm_on_the_arm_or_tinea_corporis_due_to_trichophyton_mentagrophytes_phil_2938_loresoften more reddened around the outside edge, causing them to resemble a ‘ring’.  You can get it pretty much anywhere on the body.

It’s treated with an antifungal cream – an example of this is Canistan (yes the same one) but if an over the counter cream doesn’t work you can get prescribed stronger alternatives by your doctor. It can take several weeks to clear up and you should follow your doctor’s advice about when to return. In the meantime keep the area clean and dry. Although you’ll want to try not to scratch it as you might then spread it to other parts of your body. Also, be careful and try not to share towels as this can also spread it.

Impetigo & Staph (MRSA)
bullous_impetigo1Impetigo is a bacterial infection that involves the superficial skin. It can be caused by the same bacteria as staph (see below) but it can also be caused by a different type of bacteria called Streptococcus pyogenes. One of the key differences with staph is that is notoriously contagious and can spread around a gym very quickly if allowed to. Impetigo usually features yellowish ‘honey-crusted’ lesions on the face, arms, and legs. The rash (and sometimes blisters) are often itchy and can be painful.

skin_infection_moranTreatment for both conditions is similar. Some minor boils may settle on their own within a few days without treatment but the reality is that the majority of infections will require treatment with antibiotics. It is best not to be in doubt – if you are concerned that you may have a staph infection somewhere on your body you should promptly seek medical advice from a doctor or suitably qualified healthcare professional. Staph is not an infection to mess with as it can be invasive and very severe leading hospital admission for intravenous antibiotics or even surgery to drain and clean the area.

Prevention is always better than a cure and the best prevention to all these things is good mat hygiene and awareness.

  • wash-beltWash your kit – that includes your belt (who won’t lose your powers!) and any knee supports or similar you may wear.
  • Wash Your Body – good old fashioned soap and water works but you can get a range of stuff with added antibacterial properties like tea tree oil etc.
  • That includes your hair – I have blogged about hair care in BJJ before but don’t forget your mat mop!
  • Wear shoes when you step off the mat—especially into the bathroom! Seriously nobody wants pee and general funk on the mat!

If you are unlucky and contract a skin condition or think you may have then do NOT hide it and keep training! Sticking a plaster or bandage on it is not the solution! Training with a skin infection is disrespectful and selfish. You are putting the health and well-being of your teammates at risk. Not just their BJJ training and competitions but also their broader health and home life which just isn’t acceptable.

Speak up –  feel free to rat out any teammates you may spot trying to hide an infection – your not breaking a secret code – you’re protecting your mat and gym

If you have ANY doubt show the affected area to your GP, Pharmacist, Coach or Educated teammate to get a second opinion. 

Suspend your training until you are sure you are no longer contagious. I know you will be hungry to get on the mat but don’t cut any corners.

I hope you’ve found this article useful and that you never have to deal with any of the conditions listed above. But it does happen and awareness and prevention is really one of the best ways of dealing with it. However, I’m just a simple grappler so this article is really just for information purposes only. It is not designed to take the place of medical advice from a qualified medical practitioner. If in doubt always get it checked out!

Photo Credit – Wikipedia

PS – The cover photo is a microscopic picture of staph.



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