Young athletes recovering from COVID-19 should see a doctor before resuming sports

The novel coronavirus may be a respiratory virus, but it can impact the entire body, including the heart.

And, as more youngsters test positive, there are concerns about how this virus will affect their hearts long-term.

The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends young athletes who have had COVID-19 get screened by their primary care provider before going back to their sport.

Children and teens who have had no symptoms or mild symptoms, the Academy says, should see their regular doctor.

Dr. Jonathan Kim, Emory's Chief of Sports Cardiology and an Assistant Professor at the Emory School of Medicine, says those with milder symptoms do not need a heart screening.

"You just need a slow return to play," Dr. Kim says.  "Take your time. Don't push yourself. Still, respect the virus and everything we don't know."

(Eli Jordan, FOX 5 Atlanta)

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If a young athlete experiences more severe symptoms, such as persistent fevers, chills, severe fatigue, muscle aches that last for several days or cardiac symptoms, such chest pain, shortness of breath, fainting or dizziness, Dr. Kim says, those are "red flag" symptoms, which should require seeing a pediatric cardiologist for a heart screening.

"The tests are similar to what we recommended in the springtime, which is, of course, a physical exam and to see a doctor, a 12-lead electrocardiogram, a blood test called cardiac troponin, which looks for a specific cardiac inflammation injury, and a cardiac ultrasound, an echocardiogram to look at heart function, how well the heart is squeezing.  The compilation of all that will help (us) make an initial decision about, is the athlete safe to go back to play."

Dr. Kim says researchers are still trying to better understand how the novel coronavirus can affect the heart.

There have been reports the virus can trigger myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle.

Kim says that is a rare complication and seems to occur in people who become more severely ill with the virus and require hospitalization.

But, he says, any athletes who have had COVID-19 should take their time and ease back into working out.

"This should not be, once you get normal testing, you go zero to sixty in two seconds, within 24 hours you are back to full-on intense training. You have to push the brake a little bit, go a little bit slower than you typically would be when coming back from another infection.  And, that's going to be variable, depending on the athlete and how sick they were, and certainly, you can individualize as well that for certain athletes as it relates to their goals and just how they're feeling."

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Because infections in young people are surging, the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending masks for indoor sportswear masks, with certain exceptions such as swimming, cheerleading, and wrestling and gymnastics. 

The AAP is also encouraging masks for outdoor sports whenever possible.

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