Around one-third of Big Ten athletes who tested positive for COVID-19 appear to have myocarditis, according to Penn State’s director of athletic medicine.
Wayne Sebastianelli delivered the information during a State College Area Board of School Directors meeting on Monday that was reported on by the Centre Daily Times. The data underscores Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren’s open letter explaining why the conference postponed its fall sports seasons.
Sebastianelli called the level of inflammation in the studies “alarming.”
Penn State doctor gives data on myocarditis
Sebastianelli linked COVID-19 and myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that reduces the heart’s ability to pump blood and can be fatal if not addressed. It is the third-leading cause of sudden death in young people, per Mayo Clinic cardiologist Dr. Michael Ackerman.
“When we looked at our COVID-positive athletes, whether they were symptomatic or not, 30 to roughly 35 percent of their heart muscles (are) inflamed,” Sebastianelli said. “And we really just don’t know what to do with it right now. It’s still very early in the infection. Some of that has led to the Pac-12 and the Big Ten’s decision to sort of put a hiatus on what’s happening.”
Myocarditis was reportedly linked last month to several Big Ten athletes who contracted COVID-19. It can cause cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle.
“You could have a very high-level athlete who’s got a very superior VO2 max and cardiac output who gets infected with COVID and can drop his or her VO2 max and cardiac output just by 10 percent, and that could make them go from elite status to average status,” Sebastianelli said. “We don’t know that. We don’t know how long that’s going to last. What we have seen is when people have been studied with cardiac MRI scans — symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID infections — is a level of inflammation in cardiac muscle that just is alarming.”
Data underscores Big Ten point on ‘medical uncertainty’
The Big Ten postponed its football season in early August and there were reports that the issue of myocarditis was discussed within the meetings. The only thing the conference provided on the decision at the time was that “there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”
A week later, first-year commissioner Kevin Warren penned an open letter to clarify the situation. He wrote it “was thorough and deliberative [decision], and based on sound feedback, guidance and advice from medical experts.”
He pointed to cardiomyopathy in the letter and wrote there was “simply too much we do not know about this virus.”
The data provided by Penn State’s director of athletic medicine puts numbers on those concerns and shows the seriousness of COVID-19’s impacts. The long-term effects are still being studied and discovered.
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