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Herpes Gladiatorum

Herpes gladiatorum, is a skin infection caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1. Herpes gladiatorum is also known as mat herpes because it is most often found in wrestlers. This virus also causes cold sores, or fever blisters, on the lips.

Herpes gladiatorum infections are common in athletes who play contact sports. Once a person gets infected with the virus, they remain infected for life. A person can have "flare-ups" of symptoms, which can be triggered by stress or illness.

The infection can show up anywhere on the skin, but in athletes, it is most commonly found on the head, neck, and trunk.

Two young wrestlers.

Herpes Gladiatorum 101

Herpes gladiatorum is spread through skin-to-skin contact with infected people, or through contact with an item an infected person has touched.

People infected with the virus can have times where it is inactive in the body and cannot be spread to others. However, the virus can become active at any time, and can be spread to others even if there aren't symptoms. People can most easily spread the virus when they have blisters.

  • People can get herpes gladiatorum by touching the blisters or sores on an infected person.
  • People can also get herpes gladiatorum by touching items used by an infected person, such as sporting gear, towels, bar soap, cell phones, or utensils.
  • Infected athletes in high contact sports like wrestling, football, and rugby can easily spread herpes gladiatorum to others.

Signs and symptoms usually appear within eight days after contact with the virus.

Common signs and symptoms:

  • Fever (especially during first episode)
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Sore throat
  • Tingling feeling on the skin
  • Cluster (usually more than one) of clear, fluid-filled blisters,
    • Blisters may or may not be painful
    • Blisters may be surrounded by redness
    • Blisters usually heal within seven to 10 days
    • Sores usually do not cause scarring, but it is important to try not to pick or rub scabs to decrease the chance of scarring.

Infection of the eye is very serious. If you think you may have herpes gladiatorum in your eye, contact your doctor immediately.

Clusters of white bumps on skin as herpes.

There is no cure for herpes gladiatorum. Once you have the virus, you will have it for life. Antiviral medications may be given to help reduce symptoms, especially during the first time you have mat herpes, and decrease the number of times a person has an episode.

Prevention tips for student athletes:

  • Shower at school, immediately after practice, using soap and water.
  • Do not share bar soap, towels, uniforms, gear, or razors with others.
  • Wash your towel after each use using hot water and detergent (with bleach, if possible). Dry on high heat setting.
  • Change and clean your uniform every day.
  • Clean your headgear daily with soap and water.
  • Clean the soles of your shoes before stepping on the mat using a towel soaked in disinfectant solution.
  • Wash your hands before and after practice and competitions.
  • Report any skin sores or blisters to your coach, athletic trainer, or parents immediately. Do not pick or squeeze skin sores.

Herpes gladiatorum is very contagious. If you think you may have a herpes gladiatorum infection, it is important to avoid skin-to-skin contact with others and not share personal items.

Questions about herpes gladiatorum? Contact us.
Phone: 608-267-9003 | Fax: 608-261-4976

Last revised June 15, 2022