Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a contact sport that mostly takes place on the ground. The combination of copious sweat and multiple partners means any BJJ gym has the potential to become a hub for skin infections. In BJJ staph infections are one of the most common skin conditions that you can get on the mats.
It’s important to know how to prevent, recognize, and treat this serious infection if the need arises! This article will tell you everything you need to know about this unwelcome training partner!
What Is A Staph Infection?
You’ve probably heard the term “staph infection,” quite possibly outside of the context of BJJ or martial arts. But what does it actually mean?
“Staph” is short for Staphylococcus, which is a whole genus of different bacteria, but the term almost exclusively refers to one member of this genus, Staphylococcus aureus. S. aureus is the cause of one of the most common BJJ skin infections.
Other members of the Staphylococcus genus lead to infection from time to time, but those infections are quite rare. So, anytime I use the term “staph infection” in this article, I will be referring to S. Aureus.
This type of bacteria really loves human skin, so much so, that it is present on up to 30% of people. So why aren’t most of us walking around with puss dripping wounds all the time? Well, it is because the skin is a very powerful protective layer that when intact, can easily deter most microbes that come into contact with it.
However, introduce a small cut or wound, a drop in immunity, and the dank darkness beneath your gi or spats and you’ve just created the perfect environment for this opportunistic bacteria to thrive.
Symptoms of a Staph Infection from BJJ
The thing with skin infections in BJJ is that they are easy to confuse for one another, or to fail to recognize their significance. People often think that a BJJ staph infection is just a simple scab or a pimple and that it’ll pass on its own.
While this may be the case, if you delay treatment staph can result in serious complications that might land you in the ER and may require a course or two of hardcore antibiotics.
So, what does a staph infection look like? There is no easy answer to this, as it can present in many different ways, from a small boil that you can mistake for a pimple to a flesh-eating pus-producing wound that won’t heal.
While this latter version is easier to identify, pimple-like presentations are more difficult to identify as staph. It is most likely a staph infection if it is located near a cut or wound, or where pimples do not usually appear.
Oftentimes, it begins like an itchy rash that progresses to a pimple. Moreover, the tissue around it is usually inflamed and tender to touch and does not get better with time.
The scary thing about staph is that it can progress to a systemic disease if it gets into the bloodstream through the wound. That’s when fever appears as a symptom, and complications can even include sepsis and heart valve issues.
There’s also the risk of dreaded MRSA (Мethicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) which is a variation of S. Aureus that does not respond to antibiotics and most treatments. The symptoms of MRSA are the same as normal staph, but the infection will not respond to more common antibiotic treatments.
How to Get Rid of A Staph Infection In Jiu Jitsu
A BJJ staph infection is not something to take lightly but neither should you panic. It takes time for it to develop into a severe infection, but you will need to address it as soon as possible. That means consulting a doctor about any skin condition that you’re not completely sure about.
Most often, a staph infection will respond to topical antibiotics in the form of cream or spray. Depending on your examination and blood test results, a course of oral antibiotics might be recommended. In cases of a more severe infection, surgical treatment and drainage of the wound might also be necessary.
An important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t cut short the antibiotics a doctor prescribes just because you think the infection has cleared up. This is a great way to allow your “ordinary” BJJ staph infection to become resistant to antibiotics and turn into MRSA, which is a lot more difficult and time consuming to treat.
Always take the full course of antibiotics as prescribed by your doctor!
BJJ Staph Infection Prevention Tips
The key to successfully avoiding staph infections is in knowing how to mitigate its risk factors. These tips generally are just common sense and day-to-day hygiene. Still, all it takes is a couple of people and poor gym hygiene to turn a Jiu Jitsu academy into a staph (and other skin germs) infested den.
There’s no real philosophy about this point. Shower regularly, cover any small cuts or wounds you might have with tape and make sure you don’t bleed all over your training partners.
Wearing a clean gi (or no-gi gear) every time you step on the mats is an absolute must. Note that wearing a rashguard, and even spats under the gi, helps a lot in preventing your skin from coming into contact with potential germs. Rash guards and spats also reduce chafing or scratches; intact skin is far less susceptible to infection.
Showering and treating small cuts with disinfectants or antibacterial soaps after training is extremely important. Antibacterial soaps are always a great idea and can be a grappler’s best friend.
If you have multiple training groups and people train in more than one, make sure they are aware that they’ll need to have fresh and clean training equipment for each class.
Encouraging communication on the subject of hygiene and skincare among teammates is also important, as sometimes a teammate might notice something on your body that might be hard for you to catch.
Another aspect of team hygiene is sharing gear, like gis, rashguards, or headgear among people. While it is best that you avoid sharing altogether, if you must share equipment make sure you wash anything you have lent to someone or borrowed yourself.
All of this advice is especially important if you have frequent travelers going through your gym, or people from your gym are cross-training regularly in other academies or other grappling sports (judo, wrestling, etc).
Taking Care of the Mats
The mats are the one common denominator when it comes to spreading anything in a BJJ academy, from knowledge to germs. Mat care is something we’ve covered before and is the foundation of preventing any type of BJJ skin infection.
A good idea to raise awareness about staph infections and the likes is to have members help with the cleaning, at least on an occasional basis. In any case, daily thorough cleansing of the mats is an absolute must.
Cleaning the Facilities
Something most people do not really pay too much attention to is cleaning all other parts of a BJJ gym apart from the mats. This includes not just dressing rooms and toilets, but also the walls of the gym, the vents, shelves, common areas, etc. These can actually house many types of germs and are spots that people come in contact with almost as often as with the mats.
Spraying these surfaces with a commercial cleaner and then wiping them down is sufficient to keep your gym environment safe from major outbreaks.
A Word on Gear Maintenance
One last thing to think about is taking care of your cleaning equipment. This means washing and replacing mop heads, taking care of your vacuum cleaner and replacing its filters, and not skipping out on using anti-microbial cleaners for the mats and facilities on a regular basis.
Consider also that leaving the gym moist might prove to be a fertile ground for fungi. After all, common gym skin conditions do include a lot more than just BJJ staph infection. Try to allow your gym to air out daily and consider using a dehumidifier or air conditioner if this isn’t a viable option.
Staph vs. other Common BJJ Skin Infections
While it is best to have any abnormal skin condition checked out by a doctor, you should be aware of what you might run into when regularly training a grappling martial art. Apart from BJJ staph infection, you might also face one of the following:
Ringworm – a fungal infection that can appear anywhere on the body. It frequently looks like a raised circle or ring, usually red and with scales forming on top of it. It starts with an itchy rash similar to a BJJ staph infection.
Impetigo – a very contagious bacterial skin infection, once again caused by a member of the Staphylococcus family – S. pyogenes. It appears as yellow, very itchy lesions that usually appear on the limbs, but might also spread to other parts of the body. The lesions turn into blisters and might get complicated if S. aureus also joins the party.
Herpes – caused by a virus and presenting as cold sores (which are caused by the same virus). Also known as “wrestlers herpes” this is a very common BJJ skin infection that appears as clusters of red blisters that are painful when touched. The commonly affected area is the head, but it may spread further and can be accompanied by fever and swollen lymph nodes.
Psoriasis – this one is not caused by a germ but is something you might witness in a BJJ gym. It is a condition during which red, itchy patches with scales appear on the skin. It is not contagious and is caused by immunological reasons, but can easily be mixed up with some of the other common BJJ skin conditions and scare people off.
BJJ Staph Infection FAQs
How to know if you are in danger of getting a staph infection?
Cuts or skin abrasions in combination with poor gym and personal hygiene are major risk factors for staph infections. Any one of these factors raises your risks, but in combination your risks go up exponentially.
How common is staph infection in BJJ?
Between Staphylococcus aureus (staph) and Staphylococcus pygenes (impetigo), staph infections are among the most common gym infections. Luckily, they’re easily prevented and when treated early tend to resolve quickly.
Can I train with staph infection?
No, stay at home until a staph infection, or any suspected skin condition clears out. Covering wounds with tape might be an option, but only if you have a cut that is not infected. Even then, try to wait until it heals.
How do you get staph infections in Jiu Jitsu?
Many factors determine whether or not you’ll get a staph infection including: your gym’s cleanliness, your immunity, exposure time, the depth or surface area of a wound that was exposed. Given that many people carry it anyway, all it might take is contact and a fresh wound that you don’t clean and disinfect after training.
A BJJ staph infection is not necessarily a big deal, but it can turn dangerous if left untreated. The best thing is to avoid contracting it in the first place, which is where our prevention tips come into play. Always wear clean gear and shower after every training session!
If you end up contracting staph, go to a doctor and follow their prescribed treatment plan. Always take a full course of antibiotics, even if it looks like the infection has cleared up early. Lastly, if you get staph and feel that your gym’s hygiene leaves something to be desired, you may need to decide whether or not you’d like to keep on training there!
Ogi is a brown belt and very passionate about Jiu Jitsu.
He is also the head coach of Carlos Maia BJJ Macedonia and Globetrotter.