Schools everywhere seem to struggle to keep staph, and the far more intimidating (and life-threatening) MRSA, off their gym mats. Since staph, including MRSA, exists naturally on the skin (usually posing no threat), it’s an incredibly hard task, between wrestlers, cheerleaders, practicing divers, and other athletics clubs that will come into the mats on a regular basis with skin exposed.

But there are other skin-to-skin diseases that are communicable by gym mat—including herpes. Herpes Simplex 1, which is most often the form that causes cold sores, but which can cause red herpes blisters anywhere on the body that the virus infects, has managed to spread to three teenage athletes.

Called “mat herpes” or “herpes gladitorium” this isn’t a new development for the virus, although more people should be aware of it.

The outbreak, in Pennsylvania’s District 2, probably started because some infected athlete did not consider, or possibly was unaware, that Herpes Simplex 1 & 2 could be transmitted through gym mats, or through accidental contact during the sport. Wrestling in the district has been postponed until the outbreak is under control.

Herpes Simplex 1 & 2 infect the skin, appearing as red blisters, the pus of which is highly contagious (transmission is also possible right before and right after the blisters appear, when the virus is still active in the body).

Technically incurable, the only way to prevent Herpes Simplex 1 & 2  to cause cold sores is to keep the immune system strong, and to avoid triggers like stress, and for some people certain foods.

Student athletes, and parents of student athletes, should carefully monitor skin for signs of redness, and anything that looks like a bump or blister. MRSA symptoms also begin as a red mark, and so any similar symptoms should be examined by a doctor, and athletic participation should be discontinued until there’s a diagnosis since gyms spread skin diseases rapidly.

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