High School Wrestling: Virus outbreak hits two wrestling teams

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An outbreak of a contagious rash called herpes gladiatorum has forced two WPIAL high schools to postpone scheduled wrestling dual meets this week.

Connellsville has eight wrestlers who are affected. "It appears kids from our team caught it while in a scrimmage with teams from outside the WPIAL," said James Lembo, athletic director at Connellsville. "We didn't know that our kids had been exposed until after we scrimmaged Penn-Trafford."

Chuck Fontana, athletic director at Penn-Trafford, preferred not to comment but confirmed that today's match with Kiski Area had been postponed until Jan. 8.

Connellsville has rescheduled matches against Laurel Highlands and Greensburg Salem, which had been planned for tonight and Friday.

Herpes gladiatorum is a skin infection caused by herpes simplex virus, which causes a rash, usually on the head, face, neck, shoulders, arms or trunk. It occurs more frequently in wrestlers because of the close physical contact of the sport.

The virus can be passed by skin-to-skin contact, appear as quickly as three days after contact and last up to 14 days.

Lembo was also quick to point out that herpes gladiatorum "is viral, not bacterial" like the MRSA staph infection outbreaks reported at various high schools in the area. The virus can be treated with medicine.

Penn-Trafford also pulled out of this weekend's King of the Mountain Tournament at Central Mountain Middle School.

"The athletic director at Penn-Trafford informed me they had shut down the wrestling program for two weeks," said tournament director Norm Palovcsik. "It's unfortunate, but skin rashes are something that coaches have to deal with in the sport of wrestling."

The Pennsylvania Department of Health is aware of an outbreak at at least four high schools in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

"Even though it's just starting to get publicity, this is something that is quite common, but schools don't publicize it enough." said Larissa Bedrick, a spokeswoman for Pennsylvania Department of Health.

The Department of Health recommended that the affected schools stop having practices and matches. They also advised students with the virus to keep the wounds covered, avoid skin-to-skin contact and don't share towels.

"A lot of these kids, they're not sick," said Bedrick. "They just have this virus, so they're still able to go to class. As long as they keep it covered, it's not a risk for other students."

Post-Gazette staff writer Daniel Malloy contributed to this report.


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