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Sports & Germs: Top Tips to Keep It Clean

For students, participating in sports usually comes with a laundry list of benefits: social, physical, emotional and even academic. And while the benefits of participating in sports far outweigh the drawbacks, infections that can spread between athletes throughout the season could remove your child from play or just be plain annoying.

“The athletes most at risk for an infection are those who participate in contact sports like wrestling or football, which usually means a skin infection,” said Dolly Myers, DO, resident physician at Samaritan Family Medicine Resident Clinic.

Typical skin infections among student athletes may be viral like warts, bacterial like impetigo, or fungal like athlete’s foot. Although those in contact sports are the most at risk, transmission can occur in other ways. According to Dr. Myers, depending on the type of disease, you can pick up an infection from skin-to-skin contact or even just touching a contaminated surface.

“The communal nature of any sport and given that a gym is an enclosed space that is often warm and moist creates an environment where diseases can thrive for an extended period of time,” said Dr. Myers. “Weight rooms, gym mats, locker rooms and any other shared space can potentially transfer an infection.”

The good news is responsible training facilities and teams take measures to reduce the chance of infection by disinfecting shared equipment after each use and taking kids out of play when contamination may occur.

Dr. Myers shares these tips your student can follow to help minimize their chance of picking up an infection this fall.

  • Wash your hands. After workouts and before touching the face or eating, it is extremely important to wash hands. The National Athletic Trainer’s Association, based on recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Journal of Infection Prevention, list hand washing as the most important way to prevent contagious disease.
  • Maintain a healthy immune system: keep stress to a minimum, eat a well-balanced diet and get enough sleep.
  • Avoid over-training that creates chronic fatigue.
  • Workouts longer than two hours, which can temporarily lower the immune system, should be conducted under the guidance of a coach.
  • Keep a barrier between the skin and shared surfaces when possible clothing, shoes or a towel
  • Wear moisture-wicking clothing to keep skin dry and prevent germs from growing.
  • Wear sandals in the locker room, even when showering.
  • Shower after every practice and wash with soap, including feet. If your child showers at home, have them change out of their exercise gear at the gym, including socks and underwear.
  • Don’t share personal hygiene items like soap, razors or towels.
  • Wash exercise clothes after each use.
  • Prevent blisters, which can be an entry for infection. Keep broken skin such as cuts or scrapes covered with a bandage.

If you suspect a possible infection, please contact your primary care provider. 

Dolly Myers, DO, is a resident at Samaritan Family Medicine Resident Clinic – Lebanon as a part of Samaritan’s Graduate Medical Education Program. She provides primary care to patients of all ages and can be reached at 541-768-6960.