Staph BJJ 101 – Avoiding Staph Infection in BJJ

Staph sucks. John Green gave it 1 star in his recent book The Anthropocene Reviewed. And it sucks more if you do BJJ because staph is common, it prevents you from training, and it can be dangerous in some instances. In this article you read how to avoid staph in BJJ, how you know if you have staph, what to do if you have staph and how long you can’t train BJJ.

Contents of this article

Staph BJJ Prevention & Treatment

What is staph?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Staphylococcus aureus is a common bacteria found on the skin and in the nose of about 30% of the population. For the most part, staph bacteria are harmless and go away on their own. If they don’t, they can cause a skin infection.

Does BJJ cause staph infection?

Brazilian jiu jitsu practitioners are more likely to get staph infections than other athletes because of the prolonged physical contact with other athletes and the floor. BJJ practitioners should be aware of the different ways they can contract staph infections, how to prevent them, and how to treat them if they have one.

How do you get staph in BJJ?

BJJ is a contact sport and we train with partially bare skin. Fighters often get small scratches and scrapes during training and competition. Sometimes these cuts and scrapes become infected with staph. This usually happens when you train someone else who has a staph infection already.

Is staph common in BJJ?

Yes.  BJJ is a grappling sport and we all know that grappling and wrestling and any other martial art that involve sweaty athletes and close contact often leads to skin to skin contact and staph infections.

In fact, staph is probably the most common skin infection in Brazilian jiu jitsu.

How to prevent staph in BJJ

To prevent getting a staph infection in BJJ, you should follow the following steps.

1. Shower directly after training

Treat showering like a part of your training. It’s the best thing you can do for overall good hygiene, and will help prevent infections with staph, ring worm, and any other bacterium.

If you don’t shower directly after training, the bacteria from your training partners will remain on your skin. Staph bacteria multiply very quickly, so you should shower as quickly as you can. Ideally you shower at your gym, but if you cannot then showering should be the first thing you do when you get home.

2. Use Defense soap (or a similar antibacterial soap)

Defense soap is a famous soap brand in Brazilian jiu jitsu. It uses a variety of antibacterial oils, such as tea tree oil, to get rid of bacteria and fungi on your skin, thus eliminating them before they can cause an infection. It also smells really good.

3. Watch out for cuts

If you get a cut or scrape, make sure that you cover it up with tape and a bandage when you train. By covering it up, you reduce the chances of bacteria entering and getting a staph infection. Also monitor all the cuts you have to see if they get infected.

4. Wash your gi AND BELT after every training

Washing your BJJ gi after every training session is the best way to remove bacteria from your gi. And always wash your belt too! I know that some people think it’s cool to have a BJJ belt that accumulates filth because it ‘shows seniority’, but that’s just ridiculous. You need to clean your belt to get the bacteria out, so wash your belt after every training session.

5. Keep your fingernails short

Having long fingernails can cause small cuts that staph bacteria can enter. Moreover, staph bacteria can get under your fingernails. So to avoid giving staph to your training partners, you should keep your fingernails short when you train BJJ.

6. Wear a rash guard

The best way to protect your skin from staph is to cover it up. Therefore, wearing a rash guard can help prevent staph in BJJ, especially if you wear a long rash guard that covers your arms up to your wrists.

7. Don’t train with someone who has a skin infection

Don’t roll with someone who looks like he might have a skin infection. And iIf you see something suspicious on the skin of your training partner, always ask them about it. They may have a skin infection and not know it, or they may be unaware that they shouldn’t be training. 

8. Wear flip flops in your BJJ gym

It’s important for good hygiene that everybody in your BJJ gym wears flip flops in the changing room, around the mat area and especially to the toilet. Otherwise, you transfer bacteria from the floor to the mat, and then from the mat to your skin when you roll on it.

How do you know if you have a staph infection?

According to the CDC, a staph infection looks like a bump or skin infections that is:

  • red
  • swollen
  • painful
  • warm to the touch
  • full of pus or other drainage

I would personally add that it’s not always easy to detect a staph infection. What the beginning of staph looks like is very similar to any other small cut, albeit itchy. And even when you have an infection it’s not easy to distinguish staph from other infections such as ringworm or impetigo.

Many people in BJJ get staph on their face but mistake it for a shaving cut or irritation, and therefore don’t detect their staph infection early. (This happened to me too.)

If you have any doubts about whether you have a staph infection, always see a medical professional before you train BJJ again. 

How to treat a BJJ staph infection?

To effectively treat a staph infection that you got from BJJ, take the following steps.

1. Seek help from a medical professional

Most likely you need antibiotics to treat your staph infection, so go to your doctor for this. Your doctor can also make sure that you diagnosed yourself correctly, and that you don’t have another skin infection, such as herpes or ringworm.

2. Don’t train BJJ while you have staph

You cannot train jiu jitsu while you have a staph infection. Ask your doctor how long it will take before you can train BJJ again. Usually, this will be about 10 to 14 days if you use antibiotics.

3. Let your coach know that you have staph

Staph is very infectious and it’s actually infectious a few days before you have your symptoms, so it’s quite likely that you already infected someone else. Moreover, you probably got your staph from someone else in your gym as well. To avoid a staph epidemic in your gym, you should let your coach know that you have staph, so he can keep an eye out for people that might have it and come to the BJJ class regardless.

Can you train BJJ with staph?

No. Staph is highly infectious so you can’t train BJJ when you have a staph infection. You need to wait until all the infected spots are healed completely, and then take a few more days off to be sure that you don’t infect anyone.

My experiences with getting staph from BJJ

My BJJ staph experience is (fortunately) quite limited. I only got staph from BJJ once. 

What happened is that I had cut my face open with a blunt razor and I trained. The shaving cuts got irritated, but I didn’t think much of it.

A few days later the cuts weren’t healing so I visited my general practitioner to ask if something was wrong. He assured me the open wound didn’t look infected, so I kept training.

After the weekend I saw one new spot under my nose that looked like a herpes infection, so I stopped training and visited my GP again. He said that it wasn’t herpes, and that it now definitely looked like staph, so he got me on an antibiotic cream.

The doctor also told me that if the antibiotic cream wouldn’t work within a few days, he would put me on antibiotic pills. Fortunately, the cream worked, and in about 10 days the staph was fully gone. I then waited another 5 days before I trained again, just to be sure that I wouldn’t infect anyone.

I then used antibacterial soap with tea tree oil for a while, and then I stopped using it, and I haven’t had any problems with staph since. 

My BJJ staph story could have been worse had I gotten an MRSA infection, but fortunately staph turned out to be just a minor annoyance in my case.