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Young Athletes Can Face Lethal Heart Damage From COVID-19

Youth playing football
Youth football in Henrico before the pandemic. (Photo: Henrico County Public Relations)

A trio of cardiologists say young victims of COVID-19 need to wait at least two weeks after the end of symptoms before resuming sports activities in order to avoid rare, but potentially lethal, heart damage.  

Many viruses can trigger myocarditis, but COVID-19 makes it more likely. UVA Health’s Dr. Peter Dean said myocarditis is a significant concern with COVID-19, because it seems as though COVID-19 is affecting the heart more so than other viruses.

In mild cases, Dean said waiting two weeks is enough. “The risk of heart damage from coronavirus in kids who have no symptoms, is, I think, incredibly small.  And even those with mild symptoms, I would say that is incredibly small as well.”

But for youths who get very sick, the danger of spreading the virus increases, along with potential heart damage.

“We know if you have myocarditis, you should not be exercising because it can predispose you to passing out, bad heart rhythms and potentially dying suddenly on the field,” Dean said.

He says the symptoms of heart damage from COVID-19 are chest pain, difficulty breathing, passing out with exercise or feeling they can’t keep up or excessive fatigue and if they have any of those they should be checked out by a professional. 

Dean and his team have developed a set of guidelines to help parents and doctors for very young athletes playing games like T-ball or youth soccer.  He says older students involved in more strenuous activities are at much greater risk.