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Impetigo Outbreaks Impacting Sports Events

6 Sep, 2017

By: Michael Popke

If you think you’ve taken every precaution possible to help ensure your youth sports event goes smoothly, add a new one to your list: impetigo.

Two Phoenix high schools were forced to cancel the first football game of the season for both teams because of an impetigo outbreak. As many as 20 players for Alhambra High School were diagnosed with the highly infectious skin disease on their elbows and forearms. The team’s game with North High School was rescheduled for mid-October, and all Alhambra players underwent daily checks for symptoms of impetigo (which is common in young people).

Infected players will not be allowed to participate until they recover, and school staff has disinfected and sanitized the locker room, weight room, classrooms and other common areas that might have received exposure to the bacteria, according to local reports. Impetigo typically spreads from skin-to-skin contact but can also spread by sharing towels.

According to Ground Up Strength, a strength-training website, impetigo is a form of staph infection “characterized by the eruption of yellowish-red (honey colored) pustules” and is common in wrestlers, boxers, swimmers, gymnasts, and football and rugby players. “The pustules may itch and burn, and when they erupt, more pustules will be created. The areas most affected are the ones subject to high friction.”

Impetigo (also called infantigo) outbreaks happen more frequently than event planners might think. If there are reports of impetigo in your area, consider adding prevention tips to materials you distribute to athletes and coaches. They should include these precautions:

• Frequently wash hands with liquid anti-bacterial soap or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

• Clean and bandage all open wounds.

• Do no share equipment, towels, clothing, water bottles or personal-care items such as razors or hair clippers.

• Refrain from cosmetic body shaving.

• Shower with soap and water after participating, and clean personal equipment, clothing and bags.

• Report all abrasions, cuts and skin lesions, and seek attention from an athletic trainer for proper cleansing, treatment and dressing. 

Additionally, facility operators should take the following steps:

• Provide antimicrobial liquid soap in showers and by all sinks.

• Maintain a clean environment in locker rooms and competition spaces, especially frequently touched surfaces such as wrestling mats, treatment tables, locker room benches and floors.

• Consistently use a detergent or disinfectant registered with the Environmental Protection Agency, and follow all manufacturer’s recommendations for amount, dilution and contact time.

For more information about impetigo in athletes, read the National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s position statement on skin diseases.

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