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Covid-19: Deep breathing could put elite athletes at risk

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Due to strenuous exercise, elite athletes are more likely to inhale virus particles and direct them to the lower areas of the lung.

RESEARCH from Germany and Italy suggests that footballers and other athletes face a particular risk of the coronavirus infecting their lungs, raising major questions over attempts to restart professional soccer.

The research, produced by Italian immunologists and lung specialists based at institutes in Berlin, Rome and Verona, suggests that due to strenuous exercise, elite athletes are more likely to inhale virus particles and direct them to the lower areas of the lung.

Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, can cause lung damage and complications such as pneumonia and, in severe cases, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

The preprint paper, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, also suggests that athletes who are asymptomatic could make their condition worse by infecting their lungs during strenuous exertion. Soccer has ground to a halt in all major leagues in Europe and none have yet to resume.

European soccer’s governing body Uefa has set a May 25 deadline for leagues to outline their plans to re-start. Leagues, governing bodies and clubs, however, have said they will only return when play is safe and that they will take medical advice.

In their paper: ‘The First, Comprehensive Immunological Model of Covid-19’, Paolo Matricardi, Roberto Dal Negro and Roberto Nisini raise questions over the safety of playing while the virus remains at large.

“The pattern of breathing during strenuous exercise changes dramatically by a tremendous increase of ventilation (ie: inspiratory and expiratory volumes of air), and of alveolar ventilation in particular,” the authors state.

“Professional athletes (are) particularly exposed (much more than individuals of common population) due to their frequent practice of extreme and long-lasting exercise.”

Meanwhile, Fifa’s medical committee chairman Michel D’Hooghe has said football should not be played until at least the start of September to limit the spread of coronavirus and when it does resume that yellow cards be handed out for spitting.

“If there is one moment where absolute priority should be given to medical matters, then it is this one. This is not a matter of money but of life and death,” D’Hooghe told reporters in an interview on Tuesday. “This is the most dramatic situation we have lived in since the Second World War. We should not underestimate it, we must be realistic.”

Reuters