Coronavirus-linked heart condition becomes growing concern for NCAA athletes

Myocarditis is a coronavirus-linked heart condition where the organ becomes inflamed

A particular heart condition linked to the novel coronavirus is a growing concern for college athletes.

Dr. Colleen Kraft, a fellow with the Infectious Diseases Society of America, which hosted a press briefing Thursday with NCAA officials on COVID-19 and college athletics, said she is very concerned about myocarditis, a coronavirus-linked condition that results heart inflammation.

“I think we are playing with fire," Kraft, who is also a member of the NCAA’s COVID-19 advisory panel, warned.   I think one case of myocarditis in an athlete is too many."

Myocarditis is a relatively uncommon but well-known complication of certain viral infections and has been seen in some athletes after they had an acute exposure to COVID-19, Dr. Aaron Glatt, an epidemiologist at Mount Sinai South Nassau in New York and an infectious disease society fellow of the IDSA, told Fox News.

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The health experts caution that even if an athlete recovers from COVID-19, there is still potential to develop long-term health effects. Recent studies revealed several cases of myocarditis in people who were no longer symptomatic and previously tested positive for COVID-19.

On Thursday, the NCAA called off fall championship events because not enough schools will be competing in sports such as men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball during the first semester. The cancellation does not affect major college football.

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NCAA President Mark Emmert made the announcement in a video posted on Twitter, but it has been clear this was coming as more and more conferences canceled fall sports seasons because of the coronavirus pandemic.

During the press briefing Thursday, NCAA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Hainline stated he knew of at least a dozen NCAA athletes who developed myocarditis post-COVID-19. The NCAA has just updated guidance for institutions on how to screen for the condition, Hainline said.

Dr. Colleen Kraft, a fellow with the IDSA, stated during the briefing that she is “very concerned about myocarditis."

Dr. Colleen Kraft, a fellow with the IDSA, stated during the briefing that she is “very concerned about myocarditis." (iStock)

Myocarditis involves “inflammation of the heart associated with the potential for complications secondary to that inflammation, such as irregular heart rates, sudden death, and heart failure," Glatt said.

In one recent report, heart imaging studies found in the study’s 100 patients who recovered from COVID-19, 78% had “cardiac involvement" and 60% had “ongoing myocardial inflammation," according to the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Due to the COVID pandemic, some football conferences, such as the Big Ten and Pac-12, have postponed seasons. Others like the SEC, ACC, and Big 12 are planning on playing, however, trusting in their safety guidelines and procedures to keep the novel virus at bay.

Texas A&M Athletic Director, Ross Bjork addressed the concern of myocarditis in post-COVID athletes during an interview with the University’s radio segment Studio 12.

“We’ve known about that heart issue for eternity, really. In modern medicine, we test for that. We do initial screenings when athletes come on our campus. We did initial screenings when they return to activity for any cardiac issues," Bjork said, according to a transcript provided to Fox News.

"If anyone tested positive, they had to pass those cardiac tests before they could return after a positive test. So that's not necessarily a new piece of data, either. We've known about that. We have the protocols to make it as safe as possible. So to me, that's the track that we have to stay on," he added.

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Dr. Carlos del Rio, a fellow with the IDSA and executive associate dean at Emory University, said he is concerned that a return to sports will put more stress on hospital systems that are already overwhelmed with the virus.

"I feel like the Titanic. We have hit the iceberg, and we're trying to make decisions of what time should we have the band play," said Del Rio, who also serves on an NCAA COVID-19 advisory panel. "We need to focus on what's important. What's important right now is we need to control this virus. Not having fall sports this year, in controlling this virus, would be to me the No. 1 priority."

This story contains material from the Associated Press.