Deadly rugby virus spreads among sumo wrestlers

September 29th, 2008 - 3:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Sep 29 (IANS) A new strain of herpes virus spreading skin disease among sumo wrestlers is even more virulent than its existing versions, according to researchers. “Scrumpox”, or herpes gladiatorum, is a skin infection caused by the herpes virus, which can cause cold sores. It is spread through direct skin-to-skin contact so it is common among rugby players and wrestlers.

Symptoms can start with a sore throat and swollen glands and the telltale blisters appear on the face, neck, arms or legs. The disease is highly infectious, so infected players are often taken out of competition to stop the virus from spreading.

“Scientists in Japan believe that a strain of herpes virus called BgKL has replaced the strain BgOL as one of the most common and pathogenic, causing a skin disease in sumo wrestlers,” said Kazuo Yanagi, of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases in Tokyo. “We wanted to see if this is the case, so we studied the spread of the disease in sumo wrestlers in Tokyo.”

The researchers looked at samples taken from 39 wrestlers diagnosed with herpes gladiatorum, who were living in eight different sumo stables in Tokyo between 1989 and 1994.

Tests showed that some of the cases were primary infections, being the first time infections. However, in some cases the disease had recurred several times, according to a report by Eurekalert.

“Herpes virus can hide in nerve cells for long periods of time and symptoms can reappear later,” said Yanagi. “Our research showed that the BgKL strain of herpes is reactivated, spreads more efficiently and causes more severe symptoms than BgOL and other strains.

This is the first study to suggest that the recurrence of herpes gladiatorum symptoms in humans may depend on the strain of virus.”

“Two of the wrestlers died as a result of their infections, so cases like this do need to be investigated,” said Yanagi. “This research will aid future studies on herpes and may help identify herpes genes that are involved in recurrence and spread of the disease.

These findings were published in the October issue of the Journal of General Virology.

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