Penn State doctor says one-third of their athletes who tested positive for COVID-19 developed inflamed heart muscles which can be fatal if not treated

Penn State doctor says one-third of their athletes who tested positive for COVID-19 developed inflamed heart muscles which can be fatal if not treated

September 3, 2020

  • A Penn State doctor said in a meeting that 30-35% of Big Ten athletes who tested positive for COVID-19 had signs of myocarditis in cardiac MRI scans.
  • This included athletes who were otherwise aymptomatic for the virus.
  • Myocarditis is the inflammation of the heart muscle and could have fatal consequences such as heart damage or cardiac arrest if left untreated.
  • Big Ten had postponed fall sports until the spring of 2021, with administrators citing a lack of knowledge about the effects of COVID-19.
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Penn State's director of athletic medicine Wayne Sebastianelli revealed that one-third of Big Ten athletes who tested positive for the novel coronavirus had myocarditis, according to Parth Upadhyaya of Centre Daily Times.

Sebastianelli reportedly made the comments during a State College area board of directors meeting on Monday. Sebastianielli said cardiac MRI scans revealed signs of myocarditis, inflamed heart muscles that can be fatal if left untreated.

"When we looked at our COVID-positive athletes, whether they were symptomatic or not, 30 to roughly 35 percent of their heart muscles (are) inflamed," Sebastianelli said. "And we really just don't know what to do with it right now. 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."

On August 10, ESPN's Paula Lavigne and Mark Schlabach reported that administrators in Power 5 conferences had discussed the link between myocarditis and COVID-19.

When the Big Ten voted to postpone fall sports until the spring of 2021, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement, "As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.

Sebastianelli said there was too little known about the long-term effects on athletes' cardiac output and whether it would take them from "elite status to average status."

"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."

Sebastianelli's comments comes amid news that President Donald Trump called Warren to discuss Big Ten football playing as soon as possible.

"Nothing has changed," a Big Ten source told ESPN. "Nothing. We have to get all the medical questions answered before we can even bring back a plan to the presidents for approval."

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