In this three-part series medical doctor and Jiu Jitsu Brotherhood London Head Instructor Marc Barton shares his expertise on dealing with jiu jitsu related skin-infections.


In Part 1 and Part 2 of our series of short articles on skin infections in BJJ and grappling, we discussed how easy it is to transmit these infections and learned about ringworm and staph. 

In our third and final article on the topic we will look at herpes infections, and in particular, the type of herpes that affects grapplers – herpes gladiatorum. 

What is herpes? 

Herpes simplex is a viral skin disease caused by the herpes simplex virus. There are two distinct types of herpes simplex virus, type I and type II. It is the type I herpes simplex virus that tends to cause herpes gladiatorum. This is the same version of the virus that causes cold sores, which affect around two-thirds of the population.  

Herpes gladaitorum is known by a variety of different names, and you may have heard it referred to as “scrumpox” (in rugby players), “wrestlers herpes”, and “mat pox”. It is transmitted by direct skin-to-skin contact, and is one the most infectious types of herpes. One of the largest outbreaks ever recorded occurred amongst a group of high-school wrestlers taking part in a 4-week intensive camp. By the end of the camp, 60 out of the 175 wrestlers taking part had contracted the infection. 

Recognizing herpes 

Herpes gladiatorum presents as a painful rash with clusters of painful, fluid-filled blisters, usually on the head or face, but sometimes on the arms or trunk. Sufferers often feel quite unwell, especially in the early stages of the infection, and can experience swollen lymph nodes, fevers, a sore throat, and headaches. The symptoms can last a couple of weeks, and the first outbreak is generally the most severe.  

One of the most problematic things about herpes infections, in general, is that once the virus has been contracted it never goes away completely. The virus remains dormant most of the time but, every so often it can be reactivated by certain triggers, and another outbreak can occur.  

The triggers vary from person-to-person but being run down with coughs and colds, overtraining, and stress are common ones. Some people are fortunate enough to have one outbreak and never get another, but others get recurrences several times a year. 

A photo example of a typical herpes lesion on a lip (cold sore) is shown below: 

Herpes Labialis

Preventing herpes 

Prevention is key with herpes gladiatorum, and the key to preventing outbreaks of it is the maintenance of impeccable hygiene standards. If you notice a suspicious area of skin on a training partner, politely point it out to them, as they may not be aware of the symptoms and signs. If you recognize that you have any features that could be consistent with herpes or any other skin infection, STAY OFF THE MATS!   

Treating herpes 

Herpes gladiatorum infections are generally treated with antiviral creams or tablets, such as acyclovir and famcyclovir. In susceptible carriers, oral antiviral medications are sometimes given to suppress or prevent outbreaks from occurring. 

If you are concerned in any way about the possibility of having a herpes infection somewhere on your body you should promptly seek medical advice from a doctor or suitably qualified healthcare professional. While the infection is still present precautions should be taken to avoid spreading it to other people. Good hygiene, including hand washing and not sharing towels, etc, is very important. 

N.B. The information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and is not designed to take the place of medical advice from a qualified medical practitioner. 

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Jiu Jitsu Brotherhood Recommends:

Here are our recommendations for products and services that can improve your jiu jitsu and health. This is a short list since it only includes our top picks.

For white and blue belts: BJJ Building Blocks - The ultimate fundamentals program for jiu jitsu beginners

For those wanting to use yoga to improve their jiu jitsu: Yoga for Grapplers - The ultimate fundamentals program for jiu jitsu beginners

For those wanting more advanced techniques: Flow Jitsu - Smooth-flowing combinations from 'BJJ After 40' Legend Mike Bidwell

For those struggling to remember their techniques: Beyond Technique - concept-focused jiu jitsu program by black belts Nic Gregoriades and Kit Dale

For those wanting a reference manual for BJJ: The Black Belt Blueprint - Nic Gregoriades’ bestselling book on the art of jiu jitsu