Soap and Water Skin Wipes After Each Match Reduce Skin Infections in Wrestlers

Alice Goodman

September 17, 2010

September 17, 2010 (Boston, Massachusetts) — High school wrestlers who used skin wipes after each match during a marathon day of matches had half the number of skin infections as wrestlers who did not use skin wipes. Moreover, soap and water skin wipes were superior to alcohol-based wipes in a controlled trial presented here at the 50th Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

"Coaches have to reduce costs, so wrestlers now play in team tournaments on weekends. These wrestlers compete from sun-up until dark in 3 to 5 matches a day without showering. Skin checks show that infections are increased on these days and could be transmitted and worsen over a 12-hour period if the wrestlers don't shower," said lead author Bruce J. Anderson, MD, from Boynton Health Service at the University of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Dr. Anderson, who conducted this study "out of pocket," except for the skin wipes provided by their respective companies, said that skin wipes were a good substitute for showering after each match. "They have no time to shower after each match. Some of them shower at the end of the match, but others don't shower until they get home," he noted.

Six high school wrestling teams from the Minneapolis–St. Paul area participated in the study (168 wrestlers), which took place on 2 tournament days. On the first tournament day, each team was randomized to a soap and water wipe (supplied by Sage Products), a 75% isopropyl alcohol wipe (supplied by Matguard), or a control group.

After each of 3 matches on that day, team members in the skin wipe groups used their skin wipe; those in the control group used nothing. On the second tournament day, the 3 teams were rerandomized to one of the other groups for 3 matches. Skin checks were performed and skin lesions were documented by the team coach or by a certified athletic trainer the week after each tournament; athletes with lesions were removed from competition and Dr. Anderson evaluated them.

Over the course of the study, 15.7% of wrestlers developed skin infections. Eight skin infections were documented in the control group: 4 cases of tinea corporis, 2 bacterial infections, and 2 herpes infections. In the soap and water group, 0, 1, and 0, respectively, of these skin infections were found; in the alcohol-based group 0, 3, and 1, respectively, of these infections were found.

Results in the soap and water group were significantly better than in the control group (P = .026). The difference between the group that used the alcohol-based wipes and the control group did not reach statistical significance (P = .023).

Dr. Anderson said that results with both wipes were not significantly different from each other because the 95% confidence intervals for their odds ratios overlapped, but there was an indication the the soap and water wipes were superior to the alcohol wipes.

"Our study shows that by using a soap and water cleansing wipe after each match of a day-long tournament, a 14-man team can reduce their risk of skin infection by 97%," Dr. Anderson stated.

"The main idea of this study is that it is important for kids to clean themselves after a contact-intense sport like wrestling. Wrestling can cause wounds, fungal infections, herpes, and even community-acquired methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus," said Mary-Claire Roghmann, MD, professor of epidemiology and public health at the University of Maryland in Baltimore.

Dr. Roghmann was puzzled by the superior performance of soap and water wipes in this study and speculated that the alcohol-based wipes might not have been as easy to apply as the soap and water wipes, affecting compliance.

"The take-home point of this study is that if you don't use a wipe, 16% will get skin infections. Use of the wipe significantly reduced the risk. It's important to use some kind of wipe, and simple soap and water will work," she said.

Skin wipes were provided by their respective companies. Dr. Anderson and Dr. Roghmann have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

50th Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC): Abstract G1-901. Presented September 13, 2010.