Wrestler Suspected Source of Minnesota Skin Herpes Outbreak

A wrestler from Nebraska has been fingered as the possible source of a skin herpes outbreak that prompted Minnesota high school officials to impose an eight-day suspension of wrestling competitions and contact practices.

Nebraska doesn't plan a similar moratorium, Jim Tenopir, the executive director of the Nebraska School Activities Association, said Wednesday.

The Minnesota State High School League banned wrestling until Feb. 6 after 24 cases of herpes gladiatorum were reported by 10 teams. The virus is spread by skin-to-skin contact, and symptoms include lesions on the face, head and neck.

The suspension is meant to control the current outbreak and allow time to diagnose new cases.

The Minnesota Department of Health has been tracking the virus, caused by herpes simplex Type 1, the same strain that causes cold sores. Officials first became aware of the outbreak at the Clash Duals in Rochester Dec. 29-30.

Valentine and Omaha Skutt were the only Nebraska schools in the tournament, which drew 32 teams from 13 states.

Steve Patton, tournament chairman of the Clash, told the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press that a wrestler from Valentine initially was identified as a possible carrier, but he said there was no proof. Two of the three teams Valentine wrestled in Rochester reported herpes cases, the newspaper reported.

B.J. Anderson, a former wrestler who acts as a health adviser to the Minnesota high school league, told The Associated Press that he would neither confirm nor deny that a Valentine wrestler was the suspected carrier.

"Will I say which team? I can't. I have to respect these teams," Anderson said. "I can say that all teams involved have been notified of the problem."

As of Wednesday, no Valentine wrestler had been diagnosed with herpes, athletic director Rick Hesse said. Valentine has competed in three tournaments and two dual meets since the Rochester event, and no opposing wrestlers are known to have contracted herpes, Hesse said.

One Valentine wrestler was treated for impetigo before the Rochester tournament, Hesse said. The wrestler was not believed to have been contagious when he arrived at the tournament, Hesse said, and physicians who were working at the meet cleared him to participate. Impetigo is a common bacterial skin infection that causes red sores.

Anderson said bacterial infections such as herpes and impetigo are difficult to differentiate by sight. Anderson said the medical community needs to be more vigilant about taking cultures to more accurately diagnose skin disorders among athletes competing in such a close-contact sport.

The Valentine wrestler — who was not identified — was to undergo further tests this week, Hesse said.

The type of herpes at issue is a "huge inconvenience" for the afflicted, Anderson said. There are no major long-term health concerns unless the area involved is near the eyes, he said. The cornea would be at risk in those cases, with blindness a remote possibility, he said.

Mike McMahon, athletic director at Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha, said his wrestlers have all been checked and nothing was found.

Even though Nebraska won't suspend wrestling unless there is evidence of an outbreak, Tenopir said the NSAA's concern is substantial.

Tenopir said coaches and athletic trainers have been asked to check all wrestlers for skin lesions and rashes, to get medical attention for any wrestler with skin irregularities and to report back to the NSAA. Schools also are being told to make sure they are using strong disinfectants when cleaning mats.

"It's a very wicked virus to contract and it's something that stays with kids the rest of their lives," he said.

Tenopir said the Minnesota officials he's spoken with aren't as interested in identifying the source of the herpes as much as stopping its spread.

"They don't want another state to have to go through what they're going through," Tenopir said.