Tuks is conducting a study of coronavirus effects on athletes. Picture: Supplied
Tuks is conducting a study of coronavirus effects on athletes. Picture: Supplied

Coronavirus effects on athletes under study at Tuks

By Sakhile Ndlazi Time of article published Aug 21, 2020

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Pretoria - The Sport, Exercise Medicine and Lifestyle Institute, at the University of Pretoria, is looking for people to participate in a study on the effects of Covid-19 on athletes returning to training and competing.

The study aims to answer questions by tracking the symptoms and recovery of athletes after they experienced a recent acute respiratory infection, including Covid-19.

In this regard, the institute is also inviting athletes - who compete at all levels and in different sports - to be part of this important research.

They must be aged between 18 and 60 and must have had symptoms of a respiratory infection (any flu-like illness, including Covid-19) in the past six months, among other requirements.

Participants will be asked to complete an online questionnaire about their history of symptoms that are suggestive of a recent acute respiratory infection, including Covid-19.

The study will allow guidelines to be established, that health professionals around the world can use to advise competitive and recreational athletes, as they return to sport after Covid-19 or some other respiratory infection.

The study follows findings that about 50% of all acute illness in athletes, during competitions and tournaments, affect the respiratory tract.

It was further found that some infections, such as Covid-19, negatively affect multiple organs in the body, which can cause a drop in exercise performance and increase the risk of medical complications occurring during exercise.

The institute will head up the study through the International Olympic Committee Research Centre of South Africa.

The study will also be done in collaboration with local academic institutions, among them the South African Medical Research Council, Stellenbosch University and Wits University, with international academic institutions, as well as sports organisations, such as Fifa and World Rugby.

“Since the first case of the novel coronavirus was discovered, the Covid-19 pandemic has added an unparalleled and extraordinary threat to the health of all people, including recreational and professional athletes around the world,” said Professor Martin Schwellnus, director of the sports institute at the University of Pretoria.

As lockdown restrictions are gradually lifted, the institute’s community is being called on to urgently advise and guide organisations, and individual athletes, on how they can safely return to sports training and competitions, following a Covid-19 infection.

“The current return-to-play guidelines for athletes are an adaptation of a clinical tool known as the ‘neck check’, where the decision to exercise or not is based on symptoms and signs - being either localised (above the neck) or systemic (below the neck),” said Schwellnus.

“But limited research data supports its use, and the use of this tool to guide return-to-play following Covid-19 has been questioned,” he said.

There is increasing evidence that the virus can affect multiple organs, including the lungs, kidneys and heart, and increases the risk of blood clot formation.

There might also be neurological symptoms and potential negative effects on skeletal muscle. There is, however, no data that determines whether the negative effects on organs are exacerbated in athletes as they return to full training and competition.

“Such residual symptoms might not affect only sports performance but could increase the risk of medical complications during high-intensity exercise,” Schwellnus said.

“The decision as to when it is safe for an athlete, with recent or current symptoms of an acute respiratory infection, to return to exercise remains one of the most challenging clinical decisions for a sport and exercise medicine physician or health professional involved in the management of athletes.”

* For more information on the study and how to become involved, email [email protected]

**For the latest on the Covid-19 outbreak, visit IOL's #Coronavirus trend page.

*** If you think you have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus, please call the 24-hour hotline on 0800 029 999 or visit sacoronavirus.co.za

Pretoria News

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