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 of our series of short articles on skin infections in BJJ and grappling, we discussed how easy it is to transmit these infections and concentrated on ringworm, which is one of the most commonly encountered skin infections on the mats.
In our second article, we will look at staph infections and impetigo. In my experience, very few things cause as much fear and anxiety amongst grapplers as staph. Horror stories about this particular infection frequently circulate on social media, and many of us know somebody personally who has had a particularly nasty ‘staph’ infection.
What is staph?
‘Staph’ is a shortened term commonly used to refer to infections caused by the Staphylococcus genus of bacteria. These staph bacteria can cause a variety of different infections, ranging from the relatively minor, to potentially life-threatening.
There are many types of Staphylococci, but most infections are caused by a group called Staphylococcus aureus. This group of bacteria includes the infamous ‘methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus’ or MRSA, which is particularly difficult to treat due to its resistance to the antibiotics that are most commonly used to treat staph infections.
Staph normally spreads between people through close skin contact or by touching items which have been in contact with an infected person, for example, rashguards, gis, towels, and mats.
Common examples of infections caused by staph bacteria include:
- Boils (furuncles) – red, painful, lumps on the skin that are most commonly seen on the head and neck, armpits, and buttocks.
- Abscesses – collections of pus that appear as painful lumps under the skin.
- Folliculitis– an infection of a hair follicle that results in an itchy pus-filled lump appearing around the hair.
- Cellulitis– an infection of deep layers of the skin, which causes the affected area to become warm, swollen, red, and painful.
- Wound infections – here the infection takes hold in an existing cut or graze, resulting in redness, swelling, pain, and pus in the wound.
When these infections are more severe, patients can develop fevers, chills, and feel lethargic or generally very unwell. These are worrying signs and should prompt you to seek very urgent medical advice and treatment. In a small number of people, staph skin infections can invade structures and organs within the body, and result in infections of joints, bones, the lungs, the heart, and overt sepsis.
A photo example of a nasty staph abscess that has broken down is shown below:
Impetigo is a bacterial infection that involves the superficial skin. It should be considered with staph infections as it can be caused by Staphylococcus aureus, but can also be caused by a different type of bacteria called Streptococcus pyogenes.
Typically it presents with yellowish ‘honey-crusted’ lesions on the face, arms, and legs. The rash is often itchy, sometimes blisters, and can also be painful. Spread, prevention, and treatment is similar to other staph infections, but impetigo is notoriously contagious and can spread around an academy very rapidly.
A photo example of a typical impetigo lesion is shown below:
Preventing staph and impetigo
As a general rule, all grapplers should maintain good hygiene, come to training clean, keep cuts and abrasions covered, and avoid sharing towels and clothing. Keep your skin dry, and don’t walk barefoot off the mats, I highly recommend investing in a cheap pair of flip-flops that can be left at the side of the mat and used accordingly.
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 staph or any other skin infection, STAY OFF THE MATS!
The treatment of staph depends upon which particular type of infection is present. Some minor boils require no treatment at all and will settle on their own within a few days, but the majority of infections will require treatment with antibiotics. If you are concerned in any way about the possibility of having a staph infection somewhere on your body you should promptly seek medical advice from a doctor or suitably qualified healthcare professional. Occasionally more severe, invasive infections require admission to hospital for antibiotic injections, and sometimes even surgical drainage of the lesion.
Whilst 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. If there is pus present in the infection, it should be cleaned from the skin and the infected area covered with a dressing.
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.
Epic Wipes are anti-bacterial and anti-microbial and can help prevent staph and other infections when used after BJJ training – click here to buy
Featured Image By CDC / Matthew J. Arduino, DRPH Photo Credit: Janice Haney Carr [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Next: BJJ and Grappling Skin Infections Part 3: Herpes