Wrestlers and football players are among the athletes at highest risk to pick up a disease from fellow sports participants, a specialist reported at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology this month.

"Physical contact, an integral part of many sports, leads to superficial abrasions and the passage of bacterial and viral organisms between participants," said Dr. Rodney S.W. Basler, an assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Nebraska Medical School, Omaha. "And the bulky equipment that is used to cover the feet in most sports and that is used for protection in sports such as football and hockey, promotes (skin infections) which are seen with regularity in athletes."

The viral infection herpes simplex should preclude the athlete from competing in some sports such as wrestling. Wrestlers are at particular risk since the passage of herpes simplex from competitor to competitor is helped by the highly contagious nature of the virus and by the constant presence of abrasions on the skin from mat burns, he said.

Improper sterilization of mats has also caused "multiple cases of staphylococcal impetigo. The problem is exacerbated by perspiration, which weakens the uppermost layer of skin and reduces its natural defense against invading organisms," he said, and the damp, warm environment of the locker room, which provides an excellent breeding ground for bacteria and fungi.