Guidelines for Preventing Infections in Adolescent Athletes

football locker room, high school, teenagers
football locker room, high school, teenagers
Many of the recommendations by sports organizations are more stringent than ordinary infection control practices for similar conditions.

The American Association of Pediatrics recently issued guidelines published in Pediatrics that outline the risk factors for infectious disease transmission in student athletes, which include skin-to-skin contact, sharing equipment, environmental exposures, and physical trauma.

The recommendations were based on a review of the risk of acquiring infections during various organized sports. The guidelines cover the most prevalent pathogens as well as the most common routes of transmission, prevention, and management strategies.

In athletes, the most common mode of transmission is contact. Contact-related infections include Staphylococcus aureus (both methicillin-resistant and methicillin-susceptible), Group A Streptococcus, herpes simplex virus (primarily type 1), molluscum contagiosum, verruca vulgaris, scabies and lice, and Tinea infections. 

Certain sports, such as wrestling and football, are associated with increased risk of skin-to-skin spread of diseases.

To prevent contact-transmitted infections, the guidelines recommend that managers of sports programs implement proper cleaning protocols for shared equipment, such as mats, uniforms, helmets, weight rooms, and showers. Athletes should also learn proper hygiene practices.

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Varicella-zoster virus, measles, and mumps can be transmitted by airborne or droplet methods during sporting activities. The best prevention of these infections is through immunization of athletes.

In an interview with Infectious Disease Advisor, H Dele Davies, MD, professor of pediatric infectious diseases and Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, explained that the guidelines are important because “infections constitute about 10% of all time lost during organized sports…Practicing physicians need to know that they have a role to play in anticipatory guidance to their patients, especially during the preseason sports physical.”


Davies HD, Jackson MA, Rice SG; Committee on Infectious Diseases, Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Infectious diseases associated with organized sports and outbreak control. Pediatrics. 2017;140:e20172477.