Skin Infections And The Student Athlete
Your child has no doubt presented you with a skin rash that needed your management decision. Up to 8% of illnesses in high school sports may be caused by skin infections. Having a better understanding of the more common skin infections that can occur in student athletes will help you better manage your child's healthcare.
How Are Skin Infections Shared In Athletes?
Skin infections are most often transmitted from person to person. Risk factors for skin infection in student athletes include:
- Contact sports participation
- Body shaving
- Sharing of towels, razors and equipment
What Are Common Skin Infections In Student Athletes?
Skin infections in student athletes may be caused by a number of viruses or bacteria. Three of the most common types of skin infections seen in school-aged athletes are:
Staph Aureus is a bacterium that can be resistant to certain antibiotics. That bacterium is called methicillin-resistant staph aureus (MRSA).
Staph is found in about a third of all people in the U.S. These germs normally don't cause a problem if your immune system is strong and your skin stays intact. But if your skin is damaged, the bacteria could cause a mild infection, like a small pimple, or sores with drainage. If they spread from the local tissue into the bloodstream, they can cause more widespread problems.
Staph infections are treated by antibiotics. Depending on the type of infection, you may get a cream, ointment, medicines (to swallow), or intravenous (IV).
The Herpes virus can cause cold sores in the mouth or painful blisters on the skin with surrounding redness.
Cold sores can't be cured. But, if symptoms are severe, treatment such as antiviral ointments or oral medications, anti-inflammatory medicines or over-the-counter pain relief medicines may help ease some symptoms.
Ringworm is a fungus that can cause red and dry patches on the skin. Tinea infection can affect any part of the body. Tinea infections of the feet, nails, and genital area are not often called ringworm. This is because the red patches may not look like rings. But it most often occurs in moist areas of the body and around hair.
The most common types of ringworm are:
- Athlete's foot (tinea pedis). This common type occurs on the feet and between the toes. It may be cause by sweating, not drying the feet after swimming or bathing, wearing tight socks and shoes, and warm weather.
- Jock itch (tinea cruris). This rash occurs in the genital area. Jock itch may be hard to cure. This condition is more common in men and rare in women. It happens more often in warm weather.
- Scalp ringworm (tinea capitis). Scalp ringworm occurs on the head. It is very contagious but rare in adults.
- Nail infection (tinea unguium). This is an infection of the toenails, and sometimes fingernails. It causes thickened, deformed, and discolored nails instead of a rash.
- Body ringworm (tinea corporis). This occurs anywhere on the body or the face. But it is more common in skin folds. It is also more common in warmer climates.
Treatment for ringworm depends on what part of the body is infected. It may include antifungal cream, shampoo, or medicine by mouth.
What Should I Do If My Student Athlete May Have A Skin Disease?
If your student athlete has lesions, blisters or sores or a skin infection is suspected, you should:
- Avoid ongoing participation in contact sports/exposure with others.
- Seek medical attention for further evaluation and treatment.
- Not return to play until all symptoms have subsided, and the athlete is not contagious.
- Wash clothes you wore before, along with gear and sheets and bedding that may be infected.
How Can I Prevent Spread Of Skin Diseases?
You can prevent spreading skin diseases in the athletic setting by:
Practicing good hygiene
Practice good hygiene, and wash hands frequently. Encourage everyone to wash clothes after practice. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with your hands to help prevent the spread of infections.
Keeping gear clean
Thoroughly sanitize and disinfect all gear before and after use; allow for air flow in rooms. Wash your hands after using shared equipment (such as barbells and free weights). Wash towels after each use, using hot water with detergent (and bleach if possible) and dry completely on high heat setting.
Checking potential skin diseases
Report any skin lesions or sores to your coaching staff immediately (and parent or guardian if you are under 18 years of age). Have every rashes and sores evaluated by a doctor or healthcare professional.
Not sharing towels, toiletries or personal gear
Use a clean towel as a barrier between your bare skin and shared surfaces such as exercise equipment, benches or physical therapy tables and equipment. Do not share towels, washcloths, soap, razors, toothbrushes, deodorant, ointments or creams.
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By Jeffrey M. Peterson, MD, CAQSM, FAAFP
Franciscan Physician Network Southport Family & Sports Medicine