Super Bowl XLVII: Full Contact Infectious Disease

By Rebecca Kreston | February 3, 2013 11:12 am

This year, Super Bowl XLVII is held in my hometown of New Orleans sandwiched between two Mardi Gras weekends! Residents of my darling city are calling the resulting three-week party extravaganza “Super Gras” which will certainly have public health implications in the many weeks to come. The city’s residents tend to collectively fall ill with respiratory bugs and sinus infections – otherwise known as the “Mardi Gras bug” – following a traditional two-week celebration so it will be interesting to see how Super Gras will treat us this year. Let’s hope that the “chunder from Down Under” norovirus will not join us in our festivities!

Last year, I published an article looking at contact sports and skin infections, in particular herpes gladiatorum and MRSA infections among wrestlers, football and rugby players:

Skin infections are the most common injury associated with all sports. All that body bashing and face-to-face smearing in contact sports does wonders for spreading skin or cutaneous infections. A number of these ailments are common to us non-athletic mortals – athlete’s foot, jock rash and ringworm (or tinea corporis). 

Most people rightfully assume that HSV-1 infection is a rather personal, intimate matter: we hear about transmission between a mother and her child, between romancing couples and so on. This makes sense considering that it’s spread by respiratory droplets or direct contact with infected lesions; you’ve really got to get up close and personal in someone’s face if you want to get a sense of what HSV-1 infection feels like. But given social situations with a generous amount of skin-to-skin contact with many individuals – sports, for instance – the virus will happily engage in a bit of unplanned host-hopping. As such, it has a frustrating tendency to erupt into outbreaks in sports team and during competitions.

In the spirit of vainglorious sports rituals, go on and check out Herpes Gladiatorum: Full Contact Infectious Diseases to know just what exactly is going on in the New Orleans’ Superdome this year. Play on!

  • dustyroadstraveled

    Maybe that’s why they turned the lights out this year after half-time, to keep everyone from seeing the infectious critters crawling into their skin!

  • claireyoung77

    You know, I’ve never even paused to consider this before. HSV-1 is something I’ve always associated as a very personal infection, but after reading this it makes sense that transmission is easy and common among athletes who come into such close contact with each other. MRSA would definitely be on my list of things to avoid as an athlete – I might have to insist on wearing a full body condom if I was a wrestler!

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/bodyhorrors/ bodyhorrors

      Hey Claire! I too didn’t know the extent of how serious skin infections could be in athletes until I started going through the literature. I guess it’s a matter of relativity – your pesky cold is not so personal when it’s passed to a workmate and, in the case of athletes, that cold sore isn’t just your own when you’re quite literally face-to-face with your opponents. Your infections are happy to go globetrotting given a chance. Certainly makes for some interesting conversation when watching football and wrestling, right?

      Thanks for dropping by and your kind comments!

  • Jeremy T

    Yeah, it’s kind of scary to think of all the germs that can be transferred from host to host. New Orleans is definitely the environment I imagine that cultivates an abundance of these germs. Perhaps it’s naturally initiated by the warm and humid environment, and perpetuated by a general lack of hygiene from all the rowdy folks packed into one tight space. As for the skin infections from contact sports, I’d be surprised if that was a more common injury than concussions.

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Body Horrors

Body Horrors looks at the history, anthropology and geography of infectious diseases and parasites.

About Rebecca Kreston

Rebecca Kreston is an infectious disease scholar trained in microbiology and epidemiology. She obtained her Biology degree from Reed College and her Masters of Science in Tropical Medicine from Tulane University. She's lived in tropical jungles, beaches and deserts around the world and has been exposed to several of the diseases that she studies. She currently lives in New Orleans, is a first year medical student and regularly battles insects of the Diptera, Siphonaptera and Hymenoptera orders.

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