The majority of both professional and amateur MMA promotions require pre-fight blood work testing for HIV, Hepatitis B and C. Some states do not mandate this testing at the amateur level (as scary as that may seem), and those that do not have a sanctioning board may not require any pre-fight diagnostics at all.
It is important to understand why you wouldn’t want to enter the cage with someone who has not been tested. Especially at the beginning ranks of the sport, there may be situations where you have to make a call on whether to fight or not to fight someone with an unknown status.
HIV stands for “human immunodeficiency virus” and is contracted by the exchange of bodily fluids. The main method of transmission concerning contact sport athletes is blood. It is not uncommon for blood to be shed by one or both athletes during the course of a fight. If one of the participants was to be infected with HIV, the virus could potentially pass to not only that person’s opponent, but other fighters and officials utilizing the same cage, ring or mat.
Almost exactly a year ago, the UFC partnered with the Gay and Lesbian Community Center or Southern Nevada. The campaign called “Protect Yourself at all Times,” was geared toward raising awareness of HIV in young individuals under 30, which is a large demographic for MMA fighters and fans. The general consensus is that the issue is no longer one that focuses primarily on the LGBTQ community, but all youth. In 2012 it was reported by the Center for Disease Control that over half of the cases of HIV in the United States involved people under the age of 30.
One of the spokespeople for the campaign was UFC Hall of Famer Forrest Griffin who stated in a press release: “I had 15 fights in the UFC Octagon during my career, and before each and every one of them, I had a HIV test. I’m encouraging everybody to show themselves and their partners the same respect I showed my opponents by getting tested and protecting themselves at all times.”
HIV cannot be self-diagnosed. An infected person will start to experience flu-like symptoms usually within 2-4 weeks of exposure to the virus, such as:
- Fever (this is the most common symptom)
- Swollen glands
- Sore throat
- Muscle and joint aches and pains
Some people do not experience any symptoms at all and may go as long as a decade without knowing they are infected until they are progressing toward AIDS, which is the advanced or “end stage” of the infection. AIDS stands for “acquired immunodeficiency syndrome” and is usually accompanied by a host of unpleasant symptoms including:
- Rapid weight loss
- Recurring fever or profuse night sweats
- Extreme and unexplained tiredness
- Prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck
- Diarrhea that lasts for more than a week
- Sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals
- Red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids
- Memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders
There is medicinal therapy to control the symptoms of HIV and AIDS, but there is no cure.
The word “Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis B is a serious virus that can cause scarring of the liver, liver failure, liver cancer and death. It is also transmitted by blood. Symptoms can include:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes and/or a brownish or orange tint to the urine)
- Unusually light-colored stool
- Unexplained fatigue that persists for weeks or months
- Gastrointestinal symptoms such as loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
Frequently there will be no symptoms, and it is only discovered in a blood test
Those who are infected with the virus may be lucky enough to only encounter the “liver infection” stage of the disease, which can last several agonizing months. If the disease can be contained, the person infected usually develops an immunity.
Those battling infection in excess of six months are deemed “carriers” even after symptoms subside. This means that they can still transmit the disease to others through blood and other bodily fluids. Symptoms do not always go away for carriers and may become chronic leading to more severe and life threatening medical conditions involving the liver.
According to www.hepb.org, the hepatitis B virus is 100 times more infectious than the AIDS virus and there are currently 400 million people worldwide with chronic Hepatitis B. The estimated number of infected persons in the United States alone is 1.25 million.
There is actually a vaccine for hepatitis B, which is required in most states for elementary school and in many for admittance to colleges and universities.
Hepatitis B and C have a number of similarities, the most prominent being that the both affect the liver. Unlike hepatitis B, which can be sometimes result in short-term illness, hepatitis C is almost always chronic (75-85%) and can only be spread via blood transmission. Symptoms for the two viruses are almost identical.
The Center for Disease Control estimates over twice as many American suffer from hepatitis C than from B, totaling approximately 3.8 million.
Also according to the CDC, of every 100 people infected with the Hepatitis C virus, about
- 75–85 people will develop chronic Hepatitis C virus infection; of those,
- 60–70 people will go on to develop chronic liver disease
- 5–20 people will go on to develop cirrhosis over a period of 20–30 years
- 1–5 people will die from cirrhosis or liver cancer
Pre-Fight Blood Work Testing
Testing requires a simple blood draw, which can be ordered by your regular physician, a diagnostic laboratory or through a medical clinic. Some medical offices have programs with a set price for athlete physicals and blood work. Most places do not require the athlete fast prior to the test.
Most states consider blood work to be valid for a period of six months, although some require it as often as every 30-60 days. Sometimes cost becomes a factor given that the tests are not always covered by insurance, especially when they are done multiple times during the year. The cost can run between $80-$130 on average.