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Penn State Athletics Doctor: 30-35% Of Coronavirus-Positive Big Ten Athletes Had Myocarditis

Update, 7 p.m.: Dr. Sebastianelli has since clarified his comments about myocarditis in coronavirus-positive Big Ten athletes and apologized for any confusion.

According to a written statement, Sebastianelli’s comments involved preliminary data that had verball been shared by a colleague about a forthcoming study that later published results at a lower rate. The research wasn’t conducted by him or Penn State.

He also clarified no cases of myocarditis were found in the 11 Penn State student-athletes who’ve tested positive for the virus to date.

Original Story: Penn State Director of Athletic Medicine Wayne Sebastianelli joined a State College Area school board of directors meeting Monday night to discuss the coronavirus and its effect on Big Ten sports.

Sebastianelli explained during the meeting that roughly a third of the conference’s athletes who tested positive for the coronavirus appeared to have had myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart. The condition can be fatal if left untreated or undiagnosed.

“When we’ve looked at our COVID-positive athletes, whether they were symptomatic or not, roughly 30-35% of them are showing inflammation [of the heart],” Sebastinelli said. “We really just don’t know what to do with it right now. It’s still very early in the infection.

The doctor voiced concerns over contracting the condition even if it doesn’t prove fatal. He said its effects could lessen performance and turn an excellent athlete into an “average” one.

Sebastianelli added this information has played a part in the Big Ten and Pac-12’s decision to put “a hiatus” on fall sports competition.

Earlier this summer, a three-month study conducted by an Ohio State doctor found approximately 15% of student-athletes who tested positive for the coronavirus had contracted myocarditis. Those findings were shared with the Big Ten and the Pac-12 before they decided to postpone fall sports.

The Ohio State study is still awaiting peer review. However, Sebastianelli’s report is clearly troubling, as it indicates a much higher rate of infection for myocarditis.

“We really want to study this further and figure out what’s going on with the student-athletes,” Sebastianelli said.

He added that the data on myocarditis now creates a much higher level of concern and stated that schools need to get “comfortable” with the level of risk.

“What has been seen across some of the schools is that some of the athletes infected haven’t really recovered to their full pulmonary function,” Sebastianelli said. “They just don’t train as hard as they normally can. Their tolerance has decreased. What heart muscle inflammation can do, if it becomes a real serious problem, it could lead to conduction delays or the electrical signals across the heart muscle could be altered.”

In his statement explaining the Big Ten’s decision to postpone fall sports, Commissioner Kevin Warren said that the conference received “sound feedback, guidance and advice from medical experts.” He also stated that virus transmission rates continuing at an “alarming rate,” concerns involving contact tracing, and uncertainty surrounding long-term effects also played a role.

Sports Illustrated reported a few days after the postponement that myocarditis was in fact a “game-changer” in the Big Ten and Pac-12’s decision.

Sebastianelli’s discussion on myocarditis with the school board of directors can be viewed below.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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