Players of contact sports like rugby and wrestling can end up with an infection caused by Herpes Gladiatorum (HG), a virus belonging to the herpes family. It gets into the body through cuts and abrasions and the disease is sometimes called scrumpox. Like all herpes viruses, once contracted, HG can remain dormant in its host and reactivate at any time. In this article in Microbiology Today (pdf) Julia Colston and Judy Breuer take a look at this unpleasant disease and show how it can even wreck an athletic career:
Herpes Gladiatorum (HG) is an active herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection associated with close-contact traumatic sports, such as wrestling, rugby and martial arts. Other names for the condition include scrumpox in association with rugby, and matpox in wrestling. It was first described in the literature in 1964, where five members of a small amateur wrestling group (and a further unfortunate gymnast who had volunteered themselves for a demonstration of the crossface manoeuvre!) developed lesions within a close time frame of individual fighting episodes. All five of these cases could be linked and they presented with similar symptoms of general malaise and an atypical vesicular rash affecting the exposed areas, namely the face and arms. Several further reports closely followed in 1965. It seems that outbreaks of HG were occurring well before this, with many unpublished epidemics taking place amongst wrestling groups. HG might have been described much earlier, had it not been for the ambiguity of the lesions produced, superimposed infections and a lack of appreciation for the relevance of the disease. Early reports list a vast array of alternative diagnoses, such as staphylococcal infections, herpes zoster, rickettsialpox and contact dermatitis, to name just a few. In fact, there are reports of unspecified disease in wrestling groups dating back as far as the 1920’s.
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