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BJJ and Grappling Skin Infections Part 2: Staph and Impetigo

In this article, we take a deep dive into staph infections. 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.
BJJ and Grappling Skin Infections Part 2: Staph and Impetigo

by JJB Admin

2 months ago

This article was written by Marc Barton, who is a 2nd degree Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt under Mauricio Gomes.  Marc is the head instructor at Kingston Jiu Jitsu and is also a qualified medical doctor. Marc has also contributed articles for a medical education website. Header image used on license from Shutterstock. 

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 various infections, ranging from 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 most commonly used to treat staph infections.

Staph normally spreads between people through close skin contact or by touching items that have been in contact with an infected person, such as rashguards, gis, towels, and mats.

Recognising staph

Common examples of infections caused by staph bacteria include:

1. Boils (furuncles) – red, painful lumps on the skin that are most commonly seen on the head and neck, armpits, and buttocks.

2. Abscesses – collections of pus that appear as painful lumps under the skin.

3. Folliculitis – an infection of a hair follicle resulting in an itchy pus-filled lump around the hair.

4. Cellulitis – an infection of deep layers of the skin, which causes the affected area to become warm, swollen, red, and painful.

5. 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 and chills and feel lethargic or generally very unwell. These are worrying signs that prompt you to seek urgent medical advice and treatment. In a small number of people, staph skin infections can invade structures and organs within the body, resulting 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 rapidly around an academy.

A photo example of a typical impetigo lesion is shown below:

Image sourced from Wikipedia. Courtesy of OpenStax College. CC BY-SA 4.0.

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 skin area on a training partner, politely point it out to them, as they may not be aware of the symptoms and signs. If you recognise that you have any features that could be consistent with staph or any other skin infection, STAY OFF THE MATS!

Treating staph

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 need 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 the hospital for antibiotic injections and sometimes even surgical drainage of the lesion.

While the infection is still present, precautions should be taken to avoid spreading it to others. Good hygiene is essential, including hand washing, not sharing towels, etc. If pus is present in the infection, it should be cleaned from the skin, and the infected area should be covered with a dressing.

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

Next: BJJ and Grappling Skin Infections Part 3: Herpes Gladiatorum

1 comment

  • Another excellent and informative article. Thank you.

    David H Russell on

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