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©William E. Prentice


When you finish this chapter you will be able to:

  • Explain the causes, prevention, and care of the most common skin infections in sports.

  • Describe respiratory tract illnesses common to athletes.

  • Identify disorders of the gastrointestinal tract.

  • Describe how the diabetic athlete can avoid problems.

  • Describe the dangers that hypertension presents to an athlete.

  • Describe the adverse effects that various anemias have on the athlete.

  • Explain what a coach should do with an athlete who is having a grand mal seizure.

  • Identify contagious viral diseases that may be seen in athletes.

  • Explain the concerns of the female athlete in terms of menstruation, osteoporosis, and reproduction.

  • Identify specific sexually transmitted diseases.

In addition to the injuries that have been discussed in previous chapters, a variety of other medical and health-related conditions can potentially affect athletes and their ability to compete or practice. Like everyone else, athletes inevitably become ill. When illnesses occur, it becomes important to recognize these conditions and to follow up with referral to appropriate care. For the illnesses and conditions discussed in this chapter, appropriate care usually means referring the athlete to a physician to provide medical care. The majority of illnesses and conditions discussed in this chapter require referral to a physician for care. The information provided in this chapter serves as a reference for making appropriate decisions regarding care of the sick athlete.


The skin is the largest organ of the human body. It is composed of three layers—epidermis, dermis, and subcutis.38 The most common skin infections in sports are caused by viruses, bacteria, and fungi.27 Focus Box 23–1 lists the most common skin infections. To some extent, these viral, bacterial, and fungal infections can be prevented by taking appropriate measures such as using universal precautions, avoiding direct contact with infected individuals, and washing your hands.44

image FOCUS BOX 23–1 Common viral, bacterial, and fungal skin infections found in athletes

Viral Infections*

  • Herpes simplex type 1—cold sore, fever blister

  • Herpes simplex type 2—genital herpes

  • Herpes gladiatorum (back or shoulders)

  • Herpes zoster

  • Verruca virus (warts)

Bacterial Infections

  • Staphylococcus

    • Boils

    • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)

  • Streptococcus

    • Impetigo

    • Infected hair follicles (boil)

    • Infected sweat glands (folliculitis)

    • Infected hair follicles and sebaceous glands (acne vulgaris)

Fungal Infections

  • Ringworm (tinea)

    • Tinea cruris (jock rash)

    • Tinea pedis (athlete's foot)

    • Tinea capitis (head)

    • Tinea corporis (body)

    • Tinea unguium (toenails and fingernails)

*All of these conditions should be referred to a physician or dermatologist for treatment.

©juliardi/Getty Images

Viral Infections

A virus is the smallest of the microorganisms that can live only inside a cell. When the virus enters a cell, it may immediately trigger a disease (influenza), or it can remain dormant for years (herpes). A virus can damage the host cell by blocking ...

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