Ohio State study: 4 of 26 athletes who tested positive for COVID-19 'had CMR findings suggestive of myocarditis'

An Ohio State study of 26 athletes who had tested positive for COVID-19 discovered that four of those athletes showed signs of myocarditis.

The study published Friday was done as there are concerns that myocarditis — inflammation of the heart muscle — can be a longer-term effect of COVID-19. The 15 male and 11 female players at the school in the study came from multiple sports, including football, and none of the athletes had to be hospitalized or received specific treatment for their coronavirus infections.

Doctors ran cardiac magnetic resonance imaging on the athletes in June through August to check the health of their hearts. And while four athletes did have findings “suggestive of myocarditis,” the study notes that “COVID-19-related myocardial injury in competitive athletes and sports participation remains unclear.”

From the study:

Of 26 competitive athletes, 4 (15%) had CMR findings suggestive of myocarditis and 8 additional athletes (30.8%) exhibited [late gadolinium enhancement] without T2 elevation suggestive of prior myocardial injury. COVID-19-related myocardial injury in competitive athletes and sports participation remains unclear. Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging has the potential to identify a high-risk cohort for adverse outcomes and may, importantly, risk stratify athletes for safe participation because CMR mapping techniques have a high negative predictive value to rule out myocarditis.

It’s important to keep in mind how small the study is. A study of 26 athletes in a conference with thousands of them isn’t enough to draw hard-line conclusions. The summary of the study reads “while long-term follow-up and large studies including control populations are required to understand CMR changes in competitive athletes, CMR may provide an excellent risk-stratification assessment for myocarditis in athletes who have recovered from COVID-19 to guide safe competitive sports participation.”

Ohio State is part of the Big Ten, one of four conferences at the top level of college football that postponed all fall sports until a later date. The study was also published a day after Ohio State coach Ryan Day said that communication from the conference in the wake of the postponement decision was “disappointing” and that he couldn’t explain to his players why some teams were still playing football this fall and the Big Ten wasn’t.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 have said their decisions to postpone fall sports were made because of the uncertainty surrounding many aspects of COVID-19, including its long-term effects.

“We are concerned about health outcomes related to the virus,” the Pac-12’s health assessment said. “Among these, there is new and evolving information regarding potential serious cardiac side effects in elite athletes. We do not have enough information to understand the short- and long-term outcomes regarding these health issues.”

The conferences’ postponements came a day after reports emerged that multiple Big Ten athletes had myocarditis. Myocarditis can be linked to viral infections and severe cases can weaken a person’s heart and even lead to death. A lack of strenuous exercise over a period of weeks or months until the inflammation subsides is a common recommendation for those with it.

A general view of the game ball.
The Big Ten is one of four conferences that postponed college sports. (Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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