By Chris Klingenberg
Skin infections can be a major issue for high school athletes—wrestlers and football players in particular—that can cause them to miss practices or competitions, but schools often do little to educate youth athletes about skin infections and how to prevent them. Experts say parents can play a key role in filling that information gap.
“Any sport requiring contact with another individual (such as wrestling), or wearing equipment on your body that your child will sweat into that is difficult to wash (such as a football helmet or hockey equipment) could put your child at risk for a skin infection,” said study author Kurt Ashack, MD, a transitional resident in dermatology at St. Vincent Health System in Indianapolis. “As a parent, you can help your kids understand the importance of hygiene through example and education.”
The study, conducted at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, looked at skin infections resulting in time lost that were reported by high schools from across the country in a national online database. The sport with by far the highest percentage of skin infections was wrestling (an astonishing 73.6%), followed by football (17.9%). The most common types of infections were bacterial (60%) and tinea or fungal (28.4%) infections. Body parts most often affected were the head/face (25.3%) followed by the forearm (12.7%). The findings were published by the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.
“Generally speaking, any new lesion or growth on the body that arises acutely should raise suspicion for an infection,” Ashack said. “It could be a red circle that is itchy and growing larger (tinea). It could be little bumps that are red, painful and inflamed (staph). It could be flesh-colored bumps that easily scrape off, causing them to spread (molluscum virus). Also be sure to inspect for any skin breaks or tears that could easily be infected. Take proper care to protect these areas with a bandage or Ace wrap. If the area becomes red or painful, it could be a sign of infection, and not just irritation.”
Guidelines on transmission of skin infections exist but are poorly implemented—a 2012 Journal of School Nursing study from Washington University in St Louis, Mo., reported that just 32% of Missouri high schools had such guidelines—so in many cases it’s up to parents to educate youth athletes about the importance of hand hygiene and other methods of preventing skin infections.
Jim Thornton, MA, ATC, PES, past president of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, said there are several steps parents and young athletes can take to reduce the risk of skin infection.
“Cleanliness is most important,” Thornton said. “Make sure the athlete’s gym, shower surfaces, other facilities, and equipment are kept clean. Athletes should wash their hands and shower after every sports activity. They should not share towels, athletic gear, water bottles, disposable razors, or hair clippers. All clothing and equipment should be laundered and/or disinfected daily. Athletes should be encouraged to complete daily skin surveillance and report any suspicious lesions or wounds to their athletic trainers or physicians.”
Chris Klingenberg is a freelance writer and previously was a sports editor for Gatehouse Media New England where he covered sports for six local high schools. He still covers games as a freelancer and enjoys watching high school athletes on the field. Klingenberg has also been an AAU baseball coach for seven years, a varsity baseball assistant for two years and will be entering his second season as the JV baseball coach at Westford Academy in the spring.