Eastmont School District canceled all wrestling programs Wednesday after administrators learned that four diseases have infected at least half of the high school's 36 wrestlers, and possibly two other students.
"I'm sorry to let you down," Superintendent Garn Christensen told a crowd of 50 students and parents after school. "I know you worked hard to get this far."
An Eastmont student outside of the wrestling team reported a suspected skin infection, but the school district is waiting for confirmation, Christensen said. He declined comment when asked whether the student is an athlete. He said that other Eastmont sports teams will continue to compete.
Another school district in the state reported one confirmed case of herpes simplex I, which the wrestler may have contracted from an Eastmont student at a match. Christensen refused to say where the wrestler was from.
The four confirmed illnesses are:
Herpes simplex 1: A virus that can cause skin lesions. It's the same strain that causes cold sores. There is no cure, but oral anti-viral medication can treat or suppress outbreaks. If the virus gets into the eyes, it can cause blurred vision, redness and sensitivity to light.
Impetigo: A skin infection caused by staph or strep bacteria. It's treatable with antibiotics, but in some cases the bacteria can infect blood and bones.
Molluscum: A pox virus that causes raised bumps, either alone or in groups, to appear on the outer skin layer. The bumps can be burned off or treated with creams or oral medication.
Ringworm: A common fungus that infects the skin, feet (athlete's foot), groin (jock itch) and the scalp. It can be treated with oral or topical anti-fungal medication.
All four infections spread mostly by direct skin contact, but also through sweaty surfaces, including mats, shoes and towels.
Skin infections are common among wrestlers, but it's rare that a team would contract four diseases within a few weeks, Christensen said.
School nurse Kathy Robb said wrestlers can still attend school, but they should cover any infected areas with bandages or clothing. She said the risk of infection among the general student population is less because their exposure is limited. The diseases can only live on a surface for a limited amount of time.
"In a general school setting where people are not handling a lot of things when they're sweaty like wrestlers tend to be, there's not nearly as much risk," Robb said.
Health officials advised parents to monitor their wrestlers for infections over the next six months.
The school district also canceled the Class 3A regional tournament at Eastmont on Feb. 12.
"We were fearful if we did (host the tournament), the other teams would not want to come. We're already hearing that," Christensen said. He did not say where the tournament would be moved.
The high school weight room and the back gym will be closed until those areas are thoroughly cleaned and tested. Older mats will be replaced. The district plans to hire an environmental science team to inspect and test the equipment and surfaces before those areas re-open.
The district also suspended wrestling teams at the junior high and middle schools until their facilities are thoroughly cleaned. Christensen said some of the wrestlers on the high school team also compete at the junior high.
In the meantime, the district will review all of its treatment and cleaning procedures, Christensen said.
"Is there a possibility that some of this could have been transmitted through our equipment? Yes it is," Christensen said. "We're not sure we've used what we believed were all proper chemicals in our treatment and cleaning. We're having all of that reviewed."
The high school wrestling team had two meets left before the postseason, and several wrestlers were expected to contend for state berths.
Several parents voiced concern about future scholarships and college recruitment. They asked if wrestlers can still compete individually, as a smaller team or with another district.
Christensen said state sports rules don't allow individuals to compete as "walk-ins" in the postseason. Wrestlers must be part of a team, and they can't switch teams mid-season.
Even if Eastmont allowed a smaller group to compete, the 18 wrestlers who haven't shown symptoms yet may have still been exposed, Christensen said.
The wrestlers haven't practiced since the district suspended the sport on Friday.
"Nobody planned this. Nobody did something wrong. It's one of those perfect storms that happened to hit Eastmont today," Christensen said.