A Penn State doctor has confirmed that one-third of Big Ten athletes who have tested positive for COVID-19 had myocarditis symptoms.
Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle that appears to be a prevalent COVID-19 symptom amongst Big Ten athletes, according to Penn State’s director of athletic medicine. On Monday, Wayne Sebastianelli, who is also a doctor for the Penn State football team, said cardiac scans of Big Ten athletes who contracted the #coronavirus showed “30 to roughly 35 percent of their heart muscles” indicated symptoms of myocarditis. “And we really just don’t know what to do with it right now,” he said during a Monday meeting with the State College Area School District board of directors. “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.”
The symptom is one of the deadly side effects of COVID-19, and it was a major reason why Big Ten decided to hold off on its upcoming season until possibly this winter or spring. “There is simply too much we do not know about the virus, recovery from infection, and longer-term effects. While the data on cardiomyopathy is preliminary and incomplete, the uncertain risk was unacceptable at this time,” wrote Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren in a statement last month. However, chancellors and Big Ten presidents have been reconsidering their decision as three other Power Five leagues have been moving forward with the start of their seasons, beginning this month. Penn State and the Big Ten have yet to speak out about their next moves.
“Some high-level” cardiologists, according to Sebastianelli, said the high number of myocarditis cases are incidental and “may not warrant any further investigation or any further sort of concern.” A report conducted in Germany back in late July was used by the Big Ten to inform last month’s decision, USA Today reports. But, the decision is now being criticized. Michigan associate professor of cardiovascular medicine and radiology Venk Murty told the Detroit Free Press,” I think it’s important to know what’s reliable and what’s not and I think there are numerous issues with this paper and frankly, it’s inconsistent with some of the higher quality data that’s out there in the pathology literature.”
The Mayo Clinic reports that in many cases,” myocarditis improves on its own or with treatment, leading to a complete recovery.” However, the clinic says that even the mildest cases suggest a person “should avoid competitive sports for at least three to six months.” Inflammation can lead to “electrical malaise,” Sebastianelli said, which could potentially cause arrhythmia or an irregular heart rhythm, USA Today reports.
He added: “What has been seen across some of the schools is that some of the athletes affected haven’t really recovered their full pulmonary function. They just don’t train as hard as they normally can. 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.”