Mat Herpes is Herpes Gladiatorum

Wrestler holding another wrestler down. Nick Ballon/Stone/Getty Images

Herpes transmits between people very easily. That is one of the reasons it's such a common disease. People think of herpes as an STD. However, it can also be spread through more casual skin-to-skin contact, such as during wrestling. This type of herpes is referred to as mat herpes or, more correctly, herpes gladiatorum. It is most often caused by HSV-1 - the virus that usually causes oral herpes.

Herpes gladiatorum is thought to be spread primarily by skin-to-skin contact between wrestlers.

It is not primarily spread through contact with the mat. It is usually found on the heads, necks, and faces of wrestlers. It can also be found on the arms and hands. There are guidelines available to athletic officials to reduce its spread.However, those guidelines are not always effective. 

There is very little recent data about the transmission of the herpes virus from objects, instead of from person to person. (This is known as fomite transmission.)  However, studies in the 1980s found that the virus could survive for several hours on plastic surfaces in a humid environment. This suggests that herpes transmission from infected exercise equipment is possible. Therefore, while the mat is not the most common source of mat herpes, it's still worth keeping it clean.

Some guidelines for the reduction of herpes gladiatorum in high school athletes include:

  • No wrestling with any open sores or swollen lymph nodes


    ANDERSON, BJ (2003) "The Epidemiology and Clinical Analysis of Several Outbreaks of Herpes Gladiatorum." Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., 35(11):1809-1814.

    Drugge, JM and Jackson-Allen P. (2008) "A Nurse Practitioner's Guide To the Management of Herpes Simpiex Virus-1 in Chiidren" Dermatology Nursing 20(6)455-66

    National Federation of State High School Associations. (2007) Herpes Gladiatorum Position Statement and Guidelines. Accessed 1/2/2016 at

    Nerurkar LS, West F, May M, Madden DL, Sever JL. (1983) "Survival of herpes simplex virus in water specimens collected from hot tubs in spa facilities and on plastic surfaces." JAMA. 250(22):3081-3.

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