Home Science Biology Highly Contagious Skin Infections in the Cage

Highly Contagious Skin Infections in the Cage

Staph Bacteria can cause a serious infection if left untreated

The inevitable truth is that combat sports are up-close and personal. Training partners, coaches and opponents have no really concern for personal space. That being said, skin on skin contact is a constant and normally of little concern, but there are a few itchy, red and gooey instances that may keep you off the mat, cage or ring.

1. Staph Infections

Staphyloccus aureus is a bacterium which often presents itself as painful sores filled with pus surrounded by redness.  Infections often begin when staph enters the body through an injury to the skin. This could be as simple as coming in contact with the bacteria after shaving. The abscess that forms will be notably more painful than a pimple and may need to be lanced open by a doctor multiple times.  In some cases, a particularly aggressive strain of the bacteria can cause the infection to become so invasive that a surgical biopsy must be performed to excise the compromised tissue.

Staph may also be resistant to certain types of antibiotics, making it difficult to treat. This variety of the bacteria is called MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphyloccus aureus). Staph bacteria are not uncommon on the skin, but in most cases do not present a serious problem. MRSA infections have, in some cases,  lead to death, specifically in patients with compromised immune systems.

Person to person contact is not the only way to receive the bacteria. It can also be passed along through shared items such as equipment, towels, benches or saunas. The best prevention is to not share equipment when possible, wash hands, shower, and change out of sweaty training clothes often. If anyone is suspected to have staph, try to avoid training with him or her, and encourage that person to wait until the infection is gone to resume training. Depending on the location of the infection it may not take a lot of convincing, given that it can be very painful.

2. Herpes Gladiator

Herpes is the same virus that causes cold sores in the mouth. It usually presents as a painful blister with clear fluid surrounded by redness. Lesions usually appear within eight days of exposure to an infected person. Usual locations for outbreaks include the face, extremities or trunk. This virus can reoccur, though reoccurrences are usually not as severe, but are just as contagious.

Herpes virus magnified
Herpes virus magnified


3. Ringworm

Tinea or “ringworm” is a fungus on the skin. It typically causes dry, itchy, red circular patches resembling rings. It is most contagious when surfaces are wet as is typically during practice when people are sweating. The fungus may be diagnosed by using a blue/black light. If the circles on the skin glow under the light, ringworm is likely present. A skin culture is a more definitive diagnostic measure.

Ringworm can be itchy and is easily identified by its circular pattern
Ringworm can be itchy and is easily identified by its circular pattern

There are over-the-counter antifungal treatments that may help, though for frequent or severe breakouts it is best to see a healthcare provider. There are pills that can be prescribed and they typically work faster and are more effective.

Avoiding Skin Infections

It is difficult to completely avoid the bacteria, viruses and fungi that live on training surfaces, but cleanliness is the best precaution. Washing yourself, your clothes and equipment often is the first line of defense. Encourage your teammates to do the same and wipe up the floor, walls and heavy bags after every session, even if you are tired.