Student wrestler may never compete again after contracting ‘mat herpes’ on his face
A star student athlete in California is warning high school wrestlers about herpes gladiatorum, or “mat herpes,” a skin infection that can leave lesions on the face.
Blake Flovin, who believes he contracted the infection during a wrestling tournament, is trying to postpone this weekend’s state championships, fearing more athletes could be infected.
“I never thought from wrestling I could get this,” said Flovin, whose face is still dotted with noticeable lesions.
The 17-year-old began experiencing symptoms just days after competing in a Feb. 19 tournament.
Flovin believes he contracted the infection from another wrestler, or from a mat that wasn’t sanitized.
“My left side of my face, the lymph nodes by my ear started to swell,” said Flovin, who met with four doctors before he was diagnosed with the viral skin infection.
“It grew to almost the whole side of my face.”
Before being diagnosed, Flovin competed in a match the week after that tournament, and came into contact with other wrestlers who are expected to compete at this weekend’s high school state championships.
“Now that we’re researching and finding out it’s actually a fairly prevalent thing in wrestling,” said Flovin.
The high school senior, who says he’ll likely never step onto a wrestling mat again, is hoping to stop the tournament so no one else has to go through what he’s experienced.
“You go from having a phenomenal senior year, top of your game, to having your face look like the elephant man,” said Rick Flovin, the wrestler’s father. “It’s horrific.”
“It’s sad,” said Flovin’s mother, Rena. “It makes me angry that this was preventable.”
Despite Flovin and his parent’s concerns, the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) is going ahead with the tournament.
The association says it has taken all necessary measures to keep athletes safe.
“We have our policies in place per the national rules that wrestlers are not allowed to participate if they have any identified skin lesions,” said spokesperson Rebecca Brutlag.
“Doctors will do those groom checks on both Friday and Saturday prior to our tournament,” ensured Brutlag.
Treating herpes gladiatorum
Public Health Ontario says herpes gladiatorum is most common among wrestlers and rugby players.
The virus typically affects the head, face and neck.
It’s estimated that wrestlers have a 32 per cent chance of contracting the infection if their sparring partners have it, with the likeliness of transmission increasing if open wounds are present.
However, once infected a person is infected for life, and can even transmit the virus if symptoms are not present.
The research findings by St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto, say athletes can treat the infection with topical or oral antifungal.
Wrestlers can usually return to competition within two weeks.
Some of the wrestlers who competed against Flovin have been tested, but no new cases have been reported.
The CIF says it has not been informed of any other students who have contracted herpes.
That hasn’t stopped the Flovins from working with a lawyer in an attempt to get a court injunction to force the tournament’s delay. It’s unlikely that their request will be processed in time.
“The important thing here is kids’ health, said Flovin. “I’d say try and put that above everything else.”
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