(NaturalNews) The All Japan Judo Federation is sounding a warning that an epidemic of a skin- and hair-affecting fungus may ruin the traditional Japanese martial arts of judo and sumo.
"The federation has become worried about the situation," said dermatology researcher Seitaro Hiruma of Juntendo University in Tokyo. "Now they are saying that if they leave this infection unchecked it will ruin Japanese judo."
The threat is an infectious skin fungus known as Trichophyton tonsurans. Similar to athlete's foot, the fungus causes often itchy, swollen redness on the face, neck and upper body. Because it infests the scalp and causes patches of skin to flake off, in more advanced stages it can lead to death of hair follicles and loss of hair.
This last effect could be severe for the art of sumo wrestling, in which practitioners are expected to wear traditional topknots reminiscent of those worn by samurai of the Edo period. In 1925, the renowned sumo wrestler Yokozuna Tochigiyama retired while still in physical prime because he had lost too much hair to wear a topknot.
T. tonsurans, a native of Latin America, first spread to North America in the 1960s, according to Hiruma. Infected U.S. wrestlers spread the fungus to Europe and from there the organism spread throughout the global wrestling and martial arts community. Japanese judo athletes became infected in Europe, Hiruma said, bringing the fungus back to their home country.
Now survey commissioned by the judo federation found that nearly one-third of judo clubs and half of high-school judo teams in Japan have experienced T. tonsurans infections. Because the infection spreads easily between people who grapple, as in judo or wrestling, this is considered a major threat to the entire martial art.
There are an estimated 50,000 wrestlers and 500,000 judoka in Japan.
If awareness of the epidemic spreads however, judo could still be saved. T. tonsurans infection can be treated with a three-month course of drugs.