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Minor Athlete Infections and Other Annoyances: How to Prevent and Treat Them

From herpes to jock itch to jogger’s nipples, a tour of an athlete’s chamber of little horrors
By Chris Colin
WebMD Feature

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.

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