Objective To determine the incidence of acute respiratory illness (ARill) in athletes and by method of diagnosis, anatomical classification, ages, levels of performance and seasons.
Design Systematic review and meta-analysis.
Data sources Electronic databases: PubMed-Medline, EbscoHost and Web of Science.
Eligibility criteria Original research articles published between January 1990 and July 2020 in English reporting the incidence of ARill in athletes, at any level of performance (elite/non-elite), aged 15–65 years.
Results Across all 124 studies (n=1 28 360 athletes), the incidence of ARill, estimated by dividing the number of cases by the total number of athlete days, was 4.7 (95% CI 3.9 to 5.7) per 1000 athlete days. In studies reporting acute respiratory infections (ARinf; suspected and confirmed) the incidence was 4.9 (95% CI 4.0 to 6.0), which was similar in studies reporting undiagnosed ARill (3.7; 95% CI 2.1 to 6.7). Incidences of 5.9 (95% CI 4.8 to 7.2) and 2.8 (95% CI 1.8 to 4.5) were found for studies reporting upper ARinf and general ARinf (upper or lower), respectively. The incidence of ARinf was similar across the different methods to diagnose ARinf. A higher incidence of ARinf was found in non-elite (8.7; 95% CI 6.1 to 12.5) vs elite athletes (4.2; 95% CI 3.3 to 5.3).
Summary/conclusions These findings suggest: (1) the incidence of ARill equates to approximately 4.7 per athlete per year; (2) the incidence of upper ARinf was significantly higher than general (upper/lower) ARinf; (3) elite athletes have a lower incidence of ARinf than non-elite athletes; (4) if pathogen identification is not available, physicians can confidently use validated questionnaires and checklists to screen athletes for suspected ARinf. For future studies, we recommend that a clear diagnosis of ARill is reported.
PROSPERO registration number CRD42020160472.
- respiratory system
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Twitter @wderman, @goipergormance, @sportsdocaus, @margo.mountjoy
Contributors WD, NS and MS conceived the study idea. MB, ME and LK completed the search. WD, MB, ME, JF, MG, LK, KM, MM and NS extracted and reviewed data from the studies included in the meta-analysis. NS performed the data analysis and data visualisation. All authors interpreted the data analysis, contributed to writing of the draft of the manuscript and approved the submitted version.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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