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Preventing Common Skin Infections Through Awareness

Posted April 25, 2019

By Mackenzie Simmons, ATC

In youth, middle school and high school sports, skin infections are frequently seen in all types of athletes. Most sports environments expose athletes to excessive moisture and warmth, thus predisposing them to a variety of skin infections. As an Athletic Trainer, it is important to educate patients and parents on common types of skin infections as well as encourage prevention.

Below is a helpful guide on common types of skin infections, prevention and treatment. Although there are 4 types of skin infections – fungal, viral, bacterial and parasitic, I will cover the first 3 in this blog.

Bacterial Infection

Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a bacterial infection that occurs most often in people who are already in the hospital or have open wounds or sores. Some patients may be asymptomatic, while other patients experience redness, swelling and tenderness. Treatment of MRSA involves using an antibiotic, and most of the time this has to be given intravenously.

Impetigo Contagiosa is a common bacterial infection that is rapidly spread among wrestlers. It usually begins with mild itching and soreness in an area, and then evolves into small pustules that rupture and develop a honey-colored crust. To manage impetigo, the area should be cleaned with a medicated cleaning agent multiple times a day, and then an antibiotic ointment should be applied.

Folliculitis is an inflammatory bacterial infection of the hair follicle, and is commonly seen in the beard, scalp and groin. It initially starts as redness around a hair follicle and can eventually develop into a pustule or a crust in the area. Management includes moist heat to increase local circulation and application of antibiotic medication. It is important to encourage athletes not to squeeze the pustule, which could lead to infection.

Fungal Infection

Tinea corporis (ringworm of the body) is a common fungal infection of the skin, nails and hair. It is spread by direct contact, contaminated clothing or dirty locker rooms. The infection appears as an itchy, reddish-brown and ring-shaped plaque. To treat ringworm, a topical antifungal cream can be applied up to 2 times a day. In certain cases, higher doses of antifungals may have to be used to treat the infection.

Athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) is a fungal infection that is characterized by itchy, dry and scaly skin. It usually occurs on the soles of the feet or in the web spaces between the toes. To treat this, topical antifungals can be used. If symptoms do not improve, a patient may need to go to the doctor to get a prescription antifungal. To prevent getting athlete’s foot, encourage your patients to keep their feet, shoes and socks as dry as possible.

Viral Infection

The viral infection, Verruca Plantaris, or plantar warts, is found on the soles of the feet and present as an epidermal thickening that are typically tender to the touch. A distinguishing characteristic is hemorrhagic puncta, which presents as clusters of small black seeds. Plantar warts can be very contagious and are commonly found in shared locker rooms or showers. To manage this infection, patients may use a keratolytic ointment; in more serious cases, a doctor may have to freeze the warts off.

While there are treatment options available, prevention is the best way to combat skin infections. Here are some recommendations for prevention techniques that will help minimize the risk of developing fungal, bacterial and viral infections.

  1. Apply talcum powder to the skin, socks and footwear before activity to help absorb moisture
  2. Change footwear frequently and ensure that socks and shoes stay dry during activity
  3. Cover all open wounds to prevent spread of infection. If the wounds cannot be covered completely, an athlete should sit out of practice until the wound can be covered or has started healing
  4. Do not share personal items, including towels, uniforms, clothes, razors and/or water bottles
  5. Maintain clean facilities, including locker rooms, showers, practice facilities and weight rooms
  6. Encourage good hygiene, including washing of hands frequently and showering after all practices and games

Resource

Prentice, William. Principles of Athletic Training. 16th ed., Mcgraw-Hill, 2017.

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