If you have a son or daughter who’s active in contact sports such as wrestling, beware if he or she develops a facial rash. It could be a condition called herpes gladiatorum – also known as “mat herpes” or “wrestler’s herpes”.
What is Herpes Gladiatorum?
Herpes gladiatorum is a skin infection caused by the herpes simplex virus – the same virus that causes blisters in the mouth. This form of herpes causes painful vesicles to form on the face which may also involve other areas of the body such as the neck, chest, arms, and shoulders. Each blister is filled with virus particles – which makes the virus easily spread from person to person through contact sports. It’s so easy to transmit that it’s not uncommon for outbreaks to take sports teams out of commission. The National Collegiate Athletic Association believes the incidence of herpes gladiatorum among wrestlers is as high as one in four.
People with mat or wrestler’s herpes can have other symptoms too. They may have a sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, and generalized fatigue. The most serious complication of wrestler’s herpes is a condition called dendritic keratitis which causes scarring of the cornea of the eye.
How is Mat Herpes Diagnosed?
Doctors generally confirm the diagnosis by opening up a blister and removing some fluid for viral testing.
How it Wrestler’s Herpes Treated?
Usually, a doctor will prescribe the anti-viral medication Acyclovir for a week. The quicker the diagnosis is made the better – since Acyclovir may not be effective if it’s started more than three days after the blisters appear. Taking Acyclovir may cause the blisters to heal up more quickly, but the virus remains in the nerve endings and can be reactivated at a later time. Anything that weakens the immune system – even stress – can lead to another outbreak.
How to Prevent Herpes Gladiatorum
The best way to avoid mat herpes is to practice good hygiene. The virus can live on the surface of wrestling mats and can be transmitted by sharing head gear and towels. Only use wrestling mats that have been cleaned and disinfected and don’t share towels, clothing, or head gear with other athletes. Because of the close contact involved in wrestling, it can be hard to avoid transmitting the virus. Even wrestler’s without symptoms can shed the virus on their skin and transmit it to others – leading to an outbreak.
Mat Herpes: The Bottom Line?
To keep the herpes gladiatorum virus from causing problems, take measures to keep all athletic equipment clean and disinfected – and avoid close contact with any athlete who has a skin rash. Practice frequent hand washing – and be aware of any skin changes or rash that appears. If one develops, see a doctor as soon as possible to get anti-viral treatment.