Athletes who contracted COVID-19 face longer road back to fitness, study finds

The preliminary findings suggested that athletes who survived COVID-19 had 'a significantly longer return-to-play' than those with other acute respiratory illnesses.

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JOHANNESBURG - Emerging data showed that some athletes who contracted COVID-19 may encounter an uphill battle when it comes to getting back to action.

According to a research study led by sports scientist Professor Martin Schwellnus at the University of Pretoria, the road to competing again took four times longer than any other respiratory illness.

The preliminary findings suggested that athletes who survived COVID-19 had “a significantly longer return-to-play” than those with other acute respiratory illnesses.

Prof Schwellnus, researchers and international organisations are collaborating to collect evidence on the recovery rate and long-term impact of COVID-19 on athletes.

One of the studies being conducted has researchers tracking a group of more than 70 athletes for over six months after they contracted COVID-19.

According to Schwellnus, data showed that some athletes were affected by lingering symptoms of the virus more than three months later, which was often referred to as "long-haul COVID".

"If athletes have the symptom of excessive fatigue very early on in the disease, they are much more likely to take a longer time to get back to sport," he said.

"We are learning about this disease and its effects on athletes almost every day," the professor said.

Healthier individuals, and particularly physically active individuals, including athletes, are more protected from severe disease, hospitalisation, and death.

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