Herpes spreads to mat

By Don Hunt
For the Tidings

A handful of wrestlers at Crater and Grants Pass high schools have been diagnosed with herpes, athletic directors at both schools confirmed Thursday.

The Crater wrestlers apparently contracted the viral infection while competing at a tournament in Fresno, Calif., Dec. 11-12 and then spread the disease to the Grants Pass team when they met for a dual match on Dec. 16, Crater athletic director John Beck said.

A dual match between Grants Pass and South Medford scheduled for Thursday was postponed until next week. The Crater wrestlers, meanwhile, were cleared by a doctor and will compete Saturday at the Oregon Classic in Redmond, Beck said.

Beck said the number of Crater wrestlers infected was “less than 10” but couldn’t give an exact figure. Grants Pass athletic director Tom Blanchard said four of his school’s grapplers were affected.

Coaches of both teams were unavailable for comment Thursday.

The wrestlers are thought to have contracted the infection caused by Herpes Simplex Virus-1, commonly known as oral herpes. The virus usually features lesions or “cold sores” on the lips, nose and surrounding areas.

It has no cure, and as much as 80 percent of the American adult population may have the virus, with more than a half-million new cases being detected each year, according to the Herpes.com Web site.

A more serious strain of the virus, caused by Herpes Simplex-2, affects the genital region, although HSV-1 and HSV-2 can hit both the upper and lower portions of a person’s body.

“We think the kids picked it up at the Clovis tournament (in Fresno),” Beck said. “But they didn’t have any symptoms. Then they went to Reno (the following weekend, two days after wrestling Grants Pass) and that’s when we knew we might have some problems.

“The (affected) kids have all been medicated and treated,” Beck added.

Symptoms of herpes usually develop within two to five days after contact with the virus, but can take longer.

The Grants Pass team hasn’t been in its practice room for several days but wrestlers have continued to run and lift weights.

“We’re basically taking 10 days off as far as rolling around on the mat is concerned,” Blanchard said. “We haven’t had any new outbreaks, but we want to be prudent about this.”

Blanchard held a meeting with the Grants Pass wrestling parents Thursday night.

“We want to get all the information we have out there,” he said. “We’re trying to be as open as we can and not have this thing sensationalized.”

Medford dermatologist David Igelman said that parents shouldn’t be overly worried about their sons wrestling an infected opponent as long as

the opponent doesn’t have lesions or other open sores or wounds.

“If you see something on someone’s skin then they’re probably contagious, and if you don’t see anything then they’re probably not,” he said.

Asked about a report on an Internet site that referred to a phenomenon known as asymptomatic viral shedding, in which people with the virus reportedly have been detected spreading it without overt symptoms, albeit for only one or two weeks of a year, Igelman said: “I don’t know that I’d be concerned about that, although in medicine, nothing is 100 percent.”

Diseases such as bacteria-based impetigo and fungus-based tinea, or “ringworm,” are not uncommon on wrestling teams, where the participants are in constant close proximity with one another and work out in warm, humid areas. The combination can create an almost ideal breeding ground.

Herpes hasn’t been much of a culprit until recently, where it has gained a foothold on wrestling teams back East and in the Southwest.

“If you have an active cold sore and you’re grinding it into the arm pit of another wrestler, then there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to spread it,” Medford dermatologist Doug Naversen said. “The important thing is to get treated if you think you have symptoms so you don’t infect someone else.”

Naversen said there are several viral capsules on the market that will kill the virus at the affected area within a day or two.

However, the body isn’t able to eliminate the virus completely as it continues to “hide out” in nerve cells.

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