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As I mentioned in my previous blog post, there are many ways that sports activities can make people catch infections, from the close living conditions and physical contacts with other people and the environment, from both living things and inanimate objects.
There are many infections that can be caught through sporting activities: bacteria, viruses, fungi and even parasites. The most common ones are easily avoidable with a basic awareness of hygiene practices such as washing hands, and are generally manageable if you catch them. There are a few, however, that are dangerous and you should be aware of the risks and their symptoms.
Here are some of the most common infections you can pick up.
Impetigo is a highly contagious skin infection caused mainly by the bacteria, Streptococcus pyrogens or Staphylococcus aureus. It usually begins with the appearance of red sores around the nose and mouth that burst and form crusts.
Impetigo is caught by direct contact with someone who is already infected, and by touching infected items such as towels, razors, exercise mats, sports equipment, phones. It can also be caught from a cut, insect bite or as a secondary infection with other skin diseases.
For more information on impetigo click here.
MRSA is caused by a strain of Staphylococcus aureus (staph) that is resistant to some types of antibiotics. The non-resistant strain is present in a large proportion of the population, in the nose, throat and skin and causes no or minor problems. As with impetigo, MRSA can be caught by direct contact with an infected person or from contaminated items or surfaces an infected person has touched.
For more information on MRSA click here.
Herpes gladiatorium, or mat herpes , is caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), the same virus that causes cold sores and genital herpes. It is estimated that up to 90% of adults in the US (and probably other developed countries) have been infected at some point. Once infected it never goes away, it just lays dormant and periodically emerges and you become contagious again.
The virus causes lesions that can appear on any part of your body. These are infectious and can spread the virus to other people or anything they touch, e.g. through kissing, sharing drinks containers, eating utensils, mobile phones ”¦ and you‘ve probably guessed from the name, mats and other sports equipment.
For more information on treatment of Herpes simplex virus infections click here.
Ringworm is caused by a fungus that infects the skin or nails. The symptoms are itchy, red scaly patches in the shape of a circle. It can cause also bald patches on the scalp and discoloured, thick crumbling nails.
The ringworm fungus is spread by direct skin-to-skin contact or from contaminated items such as clothing, bedding, combs and wet floors where people walk barefoot.
For more information on treatment click here.
Researchers at Uppsala University Hospital compiled a list of serious diseases reported in medical literature that people caught when participating in sports activities (4), including:
In a highly unusual case, the Daily Telegraph reported on 10 August 2016 that the police in London were investigating a possible deliberate poisoning of a junior tennis player at the 2016 Wimbledon Tennis Championships. Eighteen-year-old Gabriella Taylor became unwell while playing in the junior quarter-final. She was hospitalised and eventually diagnosed with Weill‘s disease, the virulent form of leptospirosis, which is usually caught from rat urine via hand-to-mouth infection.
In October 2010 double Olympic rowing gold medallist Andy Holmes, who partnered Sir Steve Redgrave for both medals, sadly died of suspected Weill‘s disease , which he caught while taking part in a rowing event for veterans in eastern England.
This shows how important it is for sports people to be aware of symptoms of diseases they could be exposed to.
The most important way to avoid infections and prevent other people catching them from you is to wash your hands with soap, according to the US CDC (6). Studies that have measured the benefits of handwashing at a community level show that it can:
Here are some tips, based on scientific research, on how to clean your hands properly.
To remove dirt and reduce the quantity of bacteria, viruses, and other germs effectively from all parts of your hands, you should wash your hands properly, using soap and water, then drying your hands thoroughly.
When soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitiser is an effective alternative for preventing infections. It was even one of the measures introduced to the British Cycling team by Sir Dave Brailsford, when he was Performance Director of British Cycling (2003-14), in implementing his concept of marginal gains.
Hand sanitisers are also suitable in situations where frequent contact with water damages the skin. However, they are not suitable for every situation:
The IAAF Medical Manual for Athletes and the New York State Department of Health give some general advice for athletes to avoid getting infections during training and competitions (4, 5). Here are some of the suggestions ”” once you‘ve read a few you should get a general idea!
Food and water-borne diseases are more common in places where standards of food safety and hygiene are not great. There are many types of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa that can contaminate food and drink and cause diarrhoea and other medical problems. You should eat only wholesome food that is freshly cooked under hygienic conditions and only drink bottled water, other bottled or canned drinks, or boiled water.
But don‘t let all that put you off sports. The only serious skin infections I‘ve had from sports activities in the last few decades were from cuts that went septic ”” one from crashing on a bike at the bottom of a steep hill in Donegal, and the other caused by running into a clay plant pot in a garden. I didn‘t think at the time to wash them clean, though.
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