Skin infections like herpes simplex are some of the more common issues faced by athletes in any sport. Some skin infections can keep the athletes from the field, court or mat of play. In many cases, good sports hygiene and early appropriate at-home intervention can help minimize the interruptions in the athlete’s sport season.
Dr. Erik Stratman, dermatologist at Marshfield Clinic Health System, discusses some of the warning signs that an athlete may be experiencing a communicable skin disease and offers some tips on early recognition, prevention strategies and at home supplemental care tips to get the athlete back to competition as soon as possible.
Since official return-to-play recommendations can change over time, please refer to the current WIAA guidelines for treatment requirements and durations of treatment necessary for an athlete to return to the sport.
Herpes simplex is also known as the cold sore virus. This infection most commonly occurs on the face around the mouth. In athletes participating in contact sports, this infection can also occur on the trunk and extremities. This infection can be tricky to diagnose, but most often appears as clusters of blisters and erosions in one or a couple of areas. The lesions are very infectious if the blister fluid or erosions contact another player. Once the athlete has herpes simplex in their system, it may recur repeatedly throughout life.
There are at-home ways to manage and prevent the spread of herpes simplex. Avoid casual direct skin contact of the lesions with other people. Keeping the lesions covered whenever possible is a good idea to prevent the spread. If it occurs on the lips or around the mouth, avoid sharing drinks, straws or eating utensils with others.
Future herpes simplex outbreaks may flare for several reasons. Athletes whose sports occur outdoors may experience flares due to sun exposure, the most common trigger of herpes simplex outbreaks. Using sun protection including lip balms with sunscreen and minimizing extreme sun exposures can be helpful. Stressful physical or emotional times in the athlete’s life may also lead to flares. For athletes experiencing recurrent herpes simplex outbreaks, a daily suppressive antiviral medication by mouth can be used to prevent outbreaks during the sports year.
Contact your primary care provider if you have any additional questions about skin infections.