Watch out rugby players and sumo wrestlers: The unsightly, cold sore-causing skin disease known as “scrumpox” or herpes gladiatorum—or, as athletes call it, “mat herpes”— is easily spread through close contact with broken skin, and may be coming to a field or mat near you.
A strain of mat herpes has already invaded the U.S.: As many as 20 to 40 percent of wrestlers in Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association have been infected with herpes gladiatorum.
Now, researchers at Tokyo University have studied how the virus spread in sumo wrestlers in Japan, and found that the virus is likely more pathogenic than previously thought, according to the October issue of the Journal of General Virology.
Researchers took blood samples from 39 sumo wrestlers who were diagnosed with the virus between 1989 and 1994. Some of the 39 wrestlers were newly infected, but in other cases, this wasn’t the first time for infection. The wrestlers provided a perfect sample group, since they train and live in communal training stables, close quarters that seemed to allow the virus to spread.
This is the first time that anyone has demonstrated that reoccurring outbreaks depend on the strain of the virus itself: When the more pathogenic strain was reactivated in certain subjects, the virus seemed to spread more easily and cause more severe symptoms than it would have in other strains.
Dr. Kazuo Yanagi from Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases says these cases, two of which were fatal, will help in understanding the genes involved in re-occurring outbreaks and spread of the disease. Let’s hope so, for the sake of all wrestlers out there.
Credit: flickr/ Precious Dream