A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Ringworm & herpes: How to keep them out of the gym

close up of people biking on stationary bikes at a gymGyms are an ideal breeding ground for infectious diseases.

Maintaining proper hygiene and clean equipment, gear and clothing can reduce the potential spread of fungal, viral and bacterial infectious diseases at the gym or in the locker room.

Don’t let these skin infections derail your fitness program or sideline you from competition:


Ringworm is a common fungal infection spread by skin-to-skin contact. Fungus-type infectious diseases develop best in dark, damp and humid conditions, such as inside shoes or damp clothing not laundered properly and hung in a locker. Mat burns, common among wrestlers, and cuts and scrapes provide easy entry for fungal infections such as ringworm.

Ringworm lesions look like scaly circles that vary in size and may be clear in the center. The active infection is on the border of the lesion and the lesion may be itchy. It’s common for a person with ringworm to have athlete’s foot, a related fungal infection.

Prevention tips:

  • Use an antifungal shampoo such as Head and Shoulders or Nizoral.
  • Practice good hygiene and launder wet, sweaty clothes regularly.
  • Clean exercise mats daily and allow to dry before storing.
  • Avoid contact with people who have an infection.

Most fungal infections are treated with antifungal medications and proper hygiene. When the infection is gone and your doctor has provided clearance, you may return to group or student sports.


Herpes (herpes simplex) is an extremely contagious viral infection that can show up as cold sores, fever blisters and even as genital herpes. More than 80 types of the herpes virus exist. Not everyone develops symptoms once infected, and each person has a different rate of recurrence. Herpes simplex enters the skin through cuts, abrasions or other skin damage such as eczema.

Typical symptoms of a herpes outbreak can mimic cold or flu and include fever, sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes. The most common symptom is small sores that may weep a clear fluid. A tingling sensation may precede an outbreak. Once the virus is in your body, it will remain for your lifetime.

Prevention tips:

  • Avoid contact and don’t share drinks with anyone who has visible herpes sores, especially if sores are weeping.
  • Maintain proper hygiene, and clean practice areas.


Impetigo is a highly contagious bacterial skin infection. It’s common in warm temperatures and humid environments and occurs in areas of previous skin disease such as injury, eczema or abrasions. Impetigo is transmitted by contact.

Impetigo begins as a sore spot of moist, red skin and gradually grows to look like small blisters with clear or yellow fluid.

Impetigo sores are identified by a yellow crust that appears on the lesions as they erupt. Usually it’s treated with an antibiotic ointment. If infection continues to recur, you may need to see a doctor for a culture.

Care My Way® gives quick treatment for common conditions like impetigo in children and teens up to 18 years old. Download the app to get started.

Prevention tips:

  • Avoid contact with weeping or crusted lesions.
  • Sanitize daily any equipment exposed to a sore.

How you can avoid sports environment infections

Following these guidelines from the National Federation of State High School Associations can help you avoid sports environment infections:

  • Shower after practice or competition without sharing soap or towels.
  • Do not share water bottles.
  • Avoid cosmetic shaving of the chest, legs or genital areas.
  • Wash workout clothing daily and equipment routinely.
  • Properly cover abrasions and open sores.
  • Have all suspicious lesions evaluated before practice or competition.
  • Shower before using whirlpools or cold tubs.
  • Refrain from using whirlpools or cold tubs if you have open sores, scratches or scrapes.

This post provided by Sports Wrap, from Marshfield Clinic Sports Medicine

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