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I've never been in a fight in my life and never had interest in any form of contact sports before. Something about BJJ really interests me. Maybe it's the self-defense aspect, or making myself mentally and physically stronger. I'm out of shape, so it would be a great way to get started. I'm interested in the game/puzzle aspect of BJJ. I can see me really getting into it.

My biggest fear in BJJ is not broken bones, not ring worm or MRSA, it's bloodborne diseases that can't be cured. I'm not looking to compete professionally. I just wanted to train and join a great gym. There's some really great ones by me including one taught by Jean Kleber who I've read good things about.

If this is a major fear of mine, should I just move on and practice something else? I know there is constant skin contact, there are cuts, bleeds and nails digging into each other. This is holding me back from going to a trial class. I have no idea what diseases the person I'd be eventually rolling with has or doesn't have. This isn't a professional tournament where you have to come in with paperwork.

Would love any advice from someone who has some insight.

  • I also had this kind of thoughts. One thing you can and need to do is get a jab against Hepatitis B. It's the most infectious of all and there is a good vaccination against it. If you were vaccinated against Hep B years ago, then you need to check whether you still have the protection. If not, you need to retake it. – Sanyifejű Dec 20 '18 at 9:29
10

Worry about blood-borne diseases is overblown. I practice judo, which has very similar training practices to BJJ. Over the years, I have seen many injuries and even a death by heart attack, but I am not aware of any transmission of a blood-borne disease.

Bleeding is not an everyday occurrence. And you should certainly not be in the position where both you and your partner are trading fluids with exposed wounds that are vulnerable to infection.

It is expected that you and your training partners will practice good hygiene. This includes bathing, laundering your clothing, and keeping your fingernails and toenails trimmed. You may get incidental cuts and scrapes, but it is not normal to have "nails digging into each other". If someone is bleeding, then you stop, clean up the blood, apply bandages, and disinfect uniforms and mat surfaces. When you get home after training, shower and disinfect any cuts or broken skin.

If you are worried about blood and diseases, I recommend gi training because the uniform provides an additional barrier.

  • 2
    I used to do bjj and I do judo now. With full respect what you say applies to judo only. To my personal experience it does not really apply to bjj. In judo everything is just like you described, occasional scratches happen, that's all. In bjj I came home after literally each and every rolling with multiple blood strains on my gi and never without scratches and abrasions on my hand. Why? I don't know. Maybe I rolled too hard? Maybe it is just the nature of the prolonged bodily contact that is more inherent in newaza as in tachi-waza? I wish if I could know. – Sanyifejű Dec 20 '18 at 9:12
  • Having said all the things above I do not state that everybody doing bjj will be infected HIV/Hepatitis. I just say I also had some inconvenient thoughts after coming home with a gi which looked like as rag from a slaughterhouse.. – Sanyifejű Dec 20 '18 at 9:17
6

As @mattm states, the risk of transmission is low. This does not mean that it doesn't exist, but the likelihood of it happening is actually very low.

Just from a knowledge standpoint, you are much more likely to contract a bloodborne pathogen (BBP) other than HIV. HIV is actually somewhat low on the virulence scale, in that you need more exposure than other pathogens to contract it. It also requires direct blood contact to open wounds or mucousal tissue.

This has been studied quite a bit, and the general stance is that this is a low transmission risk. Here are a couple of references to start research (The second is a stub, but has links to the cited studies which you can usually find on google scholar):

Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Other Blood–borne Viral Pathogens in the Athletic Setting

Blood borne pathogens in sports

Google Scholar studies/articles

  • Fungus from the mats is also a big issue, as I understand it. – Sean Duggan Oct 4 '18 at 13:56
  • 1
    @SeanDuggan- It can be, yes, Athletes foot is the most common. At risk also is ringworm, lice, etc. However, the OP specifically asked about blood borne. It might be a good addition to list out the other considerations? Other than athletes foot, I've never had personal experience with someone contracting anything (30+ years of martial arts), but an answer detailing the other things that could happen would be helpful and a good addition. – JohnP Oct 4 '18 at 13:59
  • Acknowledged. The closest I can think of is actually from the professional wrestling events, where several stars got sidelined due to mumps (originally feared to be viral meningitis). forbes.com/sites/alfredkonuwa/2017/10/23/… – Sean Duggan Oct 4 '18 at 14:17
  • The worrisome part is that even if it is low, there is still a chance. It's not "impossible" say compared to doing something such as Tennis, for example. – imaginative Oct 4 '18 at 17:45
  • @imaginative - Well, yeah, but by that token you can get infections from opening the door to a public bathroom. There has to be a reasonable limit to fears. – JohnP Oct 4 '18 at 20:20
3

I think you're a little over-worried (though I won't say paranoid) about it. However, I think your biggest worries aren't in blood-born disease, but rather, parasites and bacteria. Yes, you'll get colds and the like, but meningitis would be my biggest fear.

In anything you do, you rely on the sanitary habits of each and every person you come in contact with, as well as anyone who has been in your physical location in as far back in the past as a few hours, to keep you from getting sick.

That's a lot of people!

This morning, I watched a clerk cook someone's breakfast burrito: she pulled out a baggie from the fridge, opened it with bare hands, pulled out raw chicken, placed it on the griddle. She then grabbed a spice container and spiced up the chicken. Then she opened the fridge again pulled out a baggie of prepared shrimp, opened it, and placed it on the griddle. Another spice can. And a spatula. Then she grabbed onions and peppers from an open can and cooked them with the chicken and shrimp. She cooked eggs. She reached for a cheese slice. Then she finally reached for a tortilla shell - still all bare hands - wrapped it all up, and handed it to the customer, who gave her a $20 bill, and she returned cash for change. Next customer.

With hygiene like that, I have strong doubt she was conscientious enough to wash her hands after using the bathroom, but that is a strong assumption I'm making. Then again, all of the customers there were day laborers from a very poor country. It is likely their bodies' immune systems were already on high alert, and these guys weren't going to get sick from eating a full tablespoon of raw E Coli bacteria.

Everything you touch, you are at the mercy of someone else's hygiene. The lettuce in that salad you're eating? The birds overhead. The moles, voles, skunks, groundhogs, and squirrels. None of them have formal bathrooms, and a head of lettuce is just as comfortable to them as a rock. The lettuce pickers. The handlers on the assembly line. The baggers. The shelvers. The customer in the store who picked up the bag (and who is pushing a supermarket cart with bare hands), looked at the price, and decided to put it back down. You sure they ALL washed their hands and didn't cough over the assembly line?

The point is, the more exposure you have to microorganism, the less likely you are to become sick from it. Some microorganisms, like meningitis, are things I would be in absolute fear of; but with a body immune system on high alert from other microorganisms, I think that is less likely an issue.

With martial arts, there are many diseases and sicknesses you are exposed to - and blood-borne are but a few of them, and the most feared ones aren't blood-borne. Even people who ARE hygienic enough to wash their hands, they can still be carriers and not even know it.

You - everyone - should take reasonable steps to maintain good hygiene, like keeping clothes, uniforms, duffel bags, shoes, and training equipment clean; as well as regular showering, keeping nails short, etc.

At the same time, the place you train at - no matter the sport - needs to have good hygienic practices as well:

  • It needs to periodically sterilize mats, floors, and other commonly accessed surfaces
  • It needs to have a process in place for spilled blood, saliva, and vomit
  • It needs to have an accessible first aid kit (which itself needs to be washed periodically), and that first aid kit needs to be accessible and stocked, but also, must not allow access to its contents to be contaminated from the very reason people go in there. So, band aids and sterile wipes should be loose, there should be gloves, and people need to be trained to use it properly. (That is to say, things within to be dispensed should be dispensed by someone who is not injured).

Also, the place you train at needs to understand its role in the microbial ecosystem, as it is a new vector for people to become sick. It should encourage people to maintain hygienic practices through the use of signs, soap, disposable towels or air dryers, garbage bins next to the bathroom door, first aid kits, and a staff which sets good examples.

(ICYWW, I'll be back at the restaurant tomorrow.)

Infectious Disease in Athletes

Infectious Diseases Associated With Organized Sports and Outbreak Control

Infectious Diseases in Athletes

Infectious disease in athletes (you'll need to be registered to read the full article)

Common Sports-Related Infections: A Review on Clinical Pictures, Management and Time to Return to Sports

  • -1 I need to mention that I don't like the words "sports" or "in athletes". The question was about bjj. I did bjj myself and I am convinced that there is a strong case to separate ground -based grappling styles form any other sports. I also did kickboxing and never had any worry about getting blood borne infections there. But bjj, (catch-wrestling, etc...) is different. If you roll hard for an extended period you'll literally take a bath in the other guy's body fluids. – Sanyifejű Dec 20 '18 at 9:54
  • As an illustration how bizarre the whole thing can get: after a good 8-10 minutes rolling I ended up in the upper position mounting the other guy. He repeatedly tried to shook me off. As I struggled to maintain my balance the sweat from my forehead was raining on his face. I am pretty sure that he got 'droplets' to both of his eyes and also to his mouth on that day. – Sanyifejű Dec 20 '18 at 10:22
  • What about football, rugby, pankration, and jujitsu? What about the locker rooms - even after baseball and softball where contact is non-existant? The point is that any sport is a potential vector. Equipment can be shared, and fluids can reside on a surface and be passed onto someone else, and that potential is increased by the very nature of sports where injuries and sweat can result. I stand by my answer; coaches need to be careful that the training areas are safe, no matter the sport. – Andrew Jennings Dec 20 '18 at 13:29
  • yes, there is possibility to get any kind of infections anywhere doing any kind of activities if one is not careful enough. Still I think it1s a mistake to generalize the case by talking about football, rugby, pankration or anything else because 1, the OP asked about specifically bjj and 2, (to my prersonal experiance, which might be wrong) no other sporting activity produces as many cuts, abrasions, mat burns, scratches, bleedings, you name it as bjj does. Maybe wrestling. But even wrestlers wear shoes which protects them from mat burns on their feet. – Sanyifejű Dec 20 '18 at 14:21
1

I also had this kind of worry. You can't eliminate the risk but you can mitigate it.

  • do not roll too hard, especially if you are a beginner; try to use more technique instead.
  • if there is a cut on your skin, cover it; if you got a nasty mat burn on the back of your hand in a class, wear a glove on that hand in subsequent classes (until it's healed).
  • always maintain good hygiene; wash every part of your gi after each session, including the belt. Wash your hands, feet, etc.
  • get a Hep B jab, or refresh it if needed.
  • trim your nails regularly; fingers and toes. (This helps however very little if others don't do the same.)
  • wear a tight-fitting garment under your gi, like a rashguard.

I hope this helps.

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