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Acute and post-acute COVID-19 presentations in athletes: a systematic review and meta-analysis


Objective To describe acute/postacute COVID-19 presentations in athletes.

Design Systematic review and meta-analysis.

Data sources The search was conducted in four databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, SCOPUS, SPORTDiscus) and restricted to studies published from 2019 to 6 January 2022.

Eligibility criteria for selecting studies Studies were required to (1) include professional, amateur or collegiate/university athletes with COVID-19; (2) present data on acute/postacute COVID-19 symptoms and (3) have an observational design. Risk of bias was assessed using the Joanna Briggs Institute Critical Appraisal tools.

Results 43 studies with 11 518 athletes were included. For acute presentation, the pooled event rates for asymptomatic and severe COVID-19 were 25.5% (95% CI: 21.1% to 30.5%) and 1.3% (95% CI: 0.7% to 2.3%), respectively. For postacute presentations, the pooled estimate of persistent symptoms was 8.3% (95% CI: 3.8% to 17.0%). Pooled estimate for myocardial involvement was 5.0% (95% CI: 2.5% to 9.8%) in athletes undergoing any cardiac testing, and 2.5% (95% CI: 1.0% to 5.8%) in athletes undergoing MRI, although clinical symptoms were not characterised. None of the studies with a control group (eg, non-infected athletes) could confirm a causal relationship between COVID-19 and myocardial involvement.

Conclusion This broad characterisation of COVID-19 presentations in athletes indicates that ~94% exhibited mild or no acute symptoms. The available evidence did not confirm a causal relationship between COVID-19 and myocardial involvement. A small proportion of athletes experienced persistent symptoms while recovering from infection, which were mostly mild in nature, but could affect return-to-play decisions and timing.

  • Sport
  • Athletes
  • Covid-19
  • Infection
  • Meta-analysis

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