Two words: "Herpes Gladiatorium". To be accurate, it's really a reason not to come into any physical contact with rugby players or sumo wrestlers, but since sumo wrestlers don't tend to be tall, muscular men with sexy foreign accents and devilish grins, there's less need to be reminded to steer clear of them. Researchers in Japan have discovered a new strain of this incurable virus which, according to an article published in the October issue of the Journal of General Virology, is even more pathogenic.
"Herpes Gladitorium", or "Herpes Rugbiorum", is a variant of Herpes Simplex (the cold sores we all know and don't love). This type causes a skin infection called "scrumpox" and has symptoms ranging from sore throat and swollen glands to large, painful, fluid-filled blisters on the face, neck, arms, or legs. Sports with high levels of physical contact - like rugby and sumo wrestling - are breeding grounds for the virus because it spreads through direct skin-to-skin contact. The disease is highly infectious and even led to the death of two sumo wrestlers.
Like other strains of Herpes, "scrumpox" has no known cure and can go dormant for long periods of time, making it sometimes difficult to diagnose and separate the infected individuals from high-contact sports. Recent outbreaks have led investigators to think a new strain of the virus might be infecting sumo wrestlers. This study characterized the virus from 39 wrestlers to determine if a new, more virulent strain had indeed erupted in Japan.
"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 Dr Kazuo Yanagi from the National Institute of Infectious Diseases in Tokyo, Japan. "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."
By studying the herpes genes, scientists hope to aid future studies on herpes and possibly identify the genes involved in the recurrence and spread of the disease. Ideally, these discoveries may lead to a treatment to stop the disease from spreading and recurring.
Until that happens, the obvious solution for most of us is to have minimal contact with rugby players. O.K., so I might have a few purely anecdotal reasons from personal experience as to why I won't date any guy who plays rugby. This just goes to show that there are also solid, scientific reasons to avoid rugby players like the plague - or at least like they have it.