Washington, Sept 29 : A new strain of Herpes virus, known to cause highly infectious skin disease called "scrumpox" in Rugby players, has now been found among sumo wrestlers in Japan.
The scientists believe that the new strain of the virus could be even more pathogenic.
"Scrumpox", or herpes gladiatorum, is a skin infection caused by the herpes virus, which can cause coldsores. It is spread through direct skin-to-skin contact so it is common among rugby players and wrestlers.
The symptoms of this disease range from sore throat, swollen glands, and the telltale blisters appearing on the face, neck, arms or legs.
Since the disease is highly infectious, 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. We wanted to see if this is the case, so we studied the spread of the disease in sumo wrestlers in Tokyo," said Dr Kazuo Yanagi from the National Institute of Infectious Diseases in Tokyo, Japan.
During the course of study, the scientists observed samples taken from 39 wrestlers diagnosed with herpes gladiatorum, who were living in eight different sumo stables in Tokyo between 1989 and 1994.
Tests revealed that some of the cases were primary infections, being the first time the wrestlers had been infected. But, in some cases the disease had recurred several times.
"Herpes virus can hide in nerve cells for long periods of time and symptoms can reappear later. 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," said Dr Yanagi.
As professional sumo wrestlers live and train together in a stable called a heya, it becomes easier to study the spread of herpes virus.
The researchers say that a look into their living arrangement suggests that the source of primary herpes infections among sumo wrestlers in each stable was their fellow wrestlers.
"Two of the wrestlers died as a result of their infections, so cases like this do need to be investigated. This research will aid future studies on herpes and may help identify herpes genes that are involved in recurrence and spread of the disease. We hope it will also contribute to the development of medicines to stop the disease from spreading and recurring in infected patients," said Dr Yanagi.
The study appears in the upcoming issue of the Journal of General Virology.