Skin Infections in Athletes

Brian B Adams


Expert Rev Dermatol. 2010;5(5):567-577. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Athletic participation has increased in popularity in the past several decades. Unfortunately, athletic activity results in many types of dermatoses. Infectious conditions exemplify the most common cutaneous ailments of athletes. Fungal, bacterial and viral infections represent the majority of skin infections in athletes. For a variety of intrinsic and extrinsic factors, athletes experience an increased risk of these cutaneous infections. Once infected, athletes may endure loss of practice time and disqualification from competition. Rapid diagnosis, appropriate institution of therapy and attentive prevention programs all minimize the deleterious effects of skin infections for both the athlete and the team.


Dermatoses of the athlete represent the most common ailment related to sports. While traumatic cutaneous conditions (such as blisters, abrasions and callosities) demonstrate the vast majority of these sports-related issues, skin infections, which occur less frequently, invoke significant alarm, as many epidemics have ended illustrious athletic seasons and have attracted noteworthy media attention. Some of these infections, namely the herpes virus infections, may recur throughout the athlete's lifetime. Athletes not only experience the typical course and complications of these diseases, but also may suffer from adverse effects resulting from the self-induced, medically inappropriate subterfuge used to avoid detection of these infections by the officials.

Multiple skin infections in the athlete exist. Fungi, bacteria and viruses cause the majority of sports-related skin infections. Parasites and atypical mycobacteria also create skin infections in athletes, but to a lesser degree, and do not appear in this article. In general, the sports-related cutaneous infections appear clinically similar to those in nonathletes. Furthermore, the treatment of skin infections in athletes often parallels that of their nonathlete counterparts. However, several distinct differences in skin infections exist between athletes and nonathletes.[1] First, athletes experience a significantly higher prevalence of these infections. As a result of intense skin-to-skin contact, rampant sharing of equipment, occlusive clothing, open wounds and profuse sweating (impaired skin barrier), athletes develop and transmit microorganisms at alarming rates. Second, cutaneous infections cause disruption to an athlete's exercise program by causing discomfort, isolation or frank disqualification. Lastly, primarily related to the significant disruption to the athletes' daily routine, clinicians may utilize season-long pharmacological intervention to prevent skin infections.

This article will discuss the epidemiology, clinical presentation, complications, treatment and prevention of the aforementioned infections in athletes. This article will also analyze future goals and objectives in the field of sports dermatology as it pertains to skin infections.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.
Post as: