As a child, I never would have guessed I'd one day be paid to type the
phrase "jock itch."
Actually, I'm sort of surprised now as an adult to find that jock itch, and
its southerly cousin athlete's foot, still exist. There's something sort of
quaint about these and other minor locker room infections — they seem to
belong in the moldering realm of short shorts and tube socks that marked our
fathers' Saturday mornings at the Y. Surely today's athletes, with their
x-treme cross trainers and x-treme energy bars, needn't worry about such musty
old athlete infections. Anyway, that's what I thought.
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I was wrong. For athletes who manage not to concuss themselves on the
goalpost or collapse in a heap on the football field, a host of thoroughly
non-fatal minor infections wait in the wings. Some can be a genuine pain in
the, well, jock. Others are better filed under irritation. But all bring little
leaguers and professionals alike to the doctor each season.
As Joanna Badger, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at
Stanford, tells it, the world's wrestlers are first in line.
Herpes gladiatorum: Wrestlers, that would be you
Herpes gladiatorum, as the name suggests, is "not at all uncommon with
wrestlers," Badger says. "There are sometimes epidemic outbreaks
throughout a whole team. My friend's a wrestler, and I'm always giving him
something for herpes."
The infection is spread through close skin-to-skin contact, and results in a
herpes simplex rash generally found on the shoulders, arms, neck, and face. (It
happens enough that the National Collegiate Athletic Association has looked
into ways of addressing its impact on wrestling.) Antiviral medications can
speed up its subsidence, but generally, there aren't many preventive options
besides watching for rashes and scrubbing those mats.
Impetigo: You again, wrestlers
Having dodged herpes, the wrestler often must contend with impetigo. More
common in children, this skin infection is also spread via the close contact
that wrestling rather depends on. Keeping the mats clean is, again, the best
prevention. Failing that, the red sores that appear eventually start to ooze
and will generally disappear on their own in a couple of weeks. They can also
be treated with antibiotics.
Ringworm, athlete’s foot, and jock itch: Equal opportunity infections
The now somewhat sickly sounding wrestling community will be relieved to
hear that yet another common minor infection, tinea, dabbles freely in many
sports. (Between October 2004 and April 2005, a French judo team saw 49 of its
131 members infected.) The tinea infection — also known as ringworm — is
fungal, not viral or bacterial, and includes athlete's foot and jock itch.
Damp, warm, and dark areas of skin are most receptive to tinea, as are teens
and adult men. The infection announces itself with an itchy and sometimes scaly
rash. Keeping clean and dry is the best prevention; clothing made from natural
fibers also can help. Antifungal creams and lotions are the typical
What is it about sports that invites all this dermatological distress? Of
course benchwarmers possess no special immunity — but athletes are made
particularly susceptible to minor infections like these by a perfect storm of
sweat, friction, skin contact, and heat. These factors contribute to
non-infection problems, too.