I saw something on the news recently about an outbreak of herpes among high school wrestlers in Minnesota. Did I hear that right? How does this happen (I guess I mean, how is it transmitted by wrestling)? Is this common?
It’s not common, but it does happen. This infection, sometimes referred to as “mat herpes” or “wrestler’s herpes,” is called herpes gladiatorum. It has nothing to do with genital herpes. Caused by HSV-1, herpes gladiatorum can cause lesions on such areas as the face, neck, and arms. While the skin on these areas is thicker and not typically susceptible to HSV infection, transmission is helped along by abrasions or damage to the skin, as can certainly happen during wrestling. Combine this with close skin-to-skin contact, with the possibility of direct contact with a cold sore or saliva that contains HSV, and it is evident why the close physical nature of the sport puts wrestlers at risk.
In the recent Minnesota outbreak, the Minnesota State High School League suspended competition for several days in February after at least 24 wrestlers from several different teams were diagnosed.
While the suspension made news, and wrestlers can be at risk for infection, again it isn’t a common occurrence. Transmission is more likely to occur when a wrestler is having a first episode of HSV-1 on the face, when large amounts of the virus might be present in lesions on the face or skin and in the saliva.
If any wrestler is experiencing a symptom of oral herpes, it would be recommended that he or she abstain from wrestling until the symptom fully heals. Symptoms usually heal within two to twelve days with or without use of treatments.