More than an Athlete's Foot

Dermatologist warns athletes of skin conditions that easily spread among sports teams

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Close contact is common among athletes who participate in team sports. This closeness can lead to the spread of various skin infections, dermatologists warn.

During the recent annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology, Brian B. Adams, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of dermatology at the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine, spoke about skin conditions that are common among athletes. Dr. Adams discussed different bacterial, viral, and fungal skin conditions that are caused by skin-to-skin contact and how they can be prevented.

Bacterial Infections

Impetigo and MRSA pose a threat to sports teams. Impetigo is a highly bacterial skin infection characterized by easy-to-pop blisters filled with pus, itching blisters filled with honey-colored fluid, rash, and skin lesions on the face, kips, arms, or legs. Wrestlers are especially prone to developing impetigo.

MRSA is a staph skin infection characterized by a red, swollen, and painful area on the skin. The infection can cause fever, skin abscesses, and pus to drain from the affected area.

According to a recent study led by Dr. Adams, MRSA most commonly occurs in football athletes through physical contact, shared facilities and equipment, and poor hygiene.

In order to avoid the spread of MRSA among team members, Adams says that a speedy diagnosis and therapy are critical. Once infected with MRSA, a patient can be treated with antibiotics that are applied directly to the skin. However, it is not uncommon for some to build up a resistance to such antibiotics. As a consequence, an oral antibiotic may be required.

Viral Infections

One virus that is common in both athletes and non-athletes is herpes simplex - a viral infection that predominantly affects the mouth and genital areas. Symptoms of herpes include blisters around the mouth, lips, gums, or genitals; as well as enlarged lymph nodes, fever, genital lesions, and mouth sores.

According to Adams, herpes is extremely common among wrestlers because skin-to-skin contact is necessary to the sport. In fact, wrestlers who compete against an infected individual have a one in three chance of contracting herpes.

Treating the infection quickly is crucial to avoiding the spread of the virus throughout a team. By taking oral antiviral medications, an athlete may be able to return to practice and competition after 4 or 5 days of treatment.

Fungal Infections

Ringworm (tine corporis) is a fungal infection that causes itchy, red, scaly patches to appear on the skin. These patches, which may look like a ring, can blister and ooze.

Dr. Adams says that ringworm is also extremely common among wrestlers, but it can spread among any sports team in which athletes have skin-to-skin contact. Topical and oral medications are effective in clearing ringworm.

Athlete's foot is another common fungal infection among athletes. Because the fungus thrives in moist, warm environments, the sweaty feet of athletes are highly prone to infection. Athlete's foot is characterized by cracked, flaking, and peeling skin of the affected area. Athlete's foot usually causes blisters, oozing, or crusting, as well as itchiness, burning, stinging.

Although athlete's foot can be treated easily using over-the-counter creams and sprays, there are also simple steps that can help prevent the spread of the fungus, says Dr. Adams. Wearing proper athletic socks (non-cotton socks), showering immediately after workouts, and wearing flip flops in shared showers and locker rooms are all effective ways to keep athlete's foot from spreading to a whole team.

By becoming aware of these infections, their symptoms, and their treatments, coaches and athletes can prevent the spread of serious serious skin conditions, allowing them to focus on sports instead of painful blisters, itchy rashes, and more serious symptoms of skin infections.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 9, 2011
Last Updated:
August 14, 2014