Hepatitis B found in wrestlers’ sweat

Some Olympic-level wrestlers have traces of the hepatitis B virus in their blood and sweat and they may risk spreading it to their teammates and opponents, a study suggests.

Researchers in Turkey obtained blood and perspiration from 70 male wrestlers competing in a Turkish National Championship. Nine had small but detectable amounts of hepatitis B virus in their blood, eight had it in their sweat, and one man had it in both. None of the wrestlers had hepatitis symptoms such as liver problems, says study coauthor Selda Bereket-Yücel, an exercise physiologist at Celal Bayar University in Manisa.

The study, described in an upcoming British Journal of Sports Medicine, didn’t establish how the wrestlers acquired the virus or whether it had spread among them, she says. But 26 of the 70 men reported having had bleeding wounds or other open skin injuries during training or competition.

The extreme stress placed on athletes in training might contribute to infection. “It is well established that prolonged exercise may induce a temporary immune suppression,” Bereket-Yücel says.

Uninfected wrestlers in the group have since been vaccinated against hepatitis B, and the others are being monitored, she says.

Not all sports organizations require hepatitis B testing or vaccination. If these preliminary results push such groups to recommend testing, Bereket-Yücel says, “that would be a beginning.”

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