UVA pediatric cardiologist discusses when kids who have had COVID-19 should return to sports

Posted at 5:29 PM, Aug 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-27 17:29:16-04

NORFOLK, Va. - COVID-19 seems to have a greater impact on the heart than other viruses, like the flu, even in children who contracted the virus.

News 3 anchor Jessica Larché talked with a Virginia pediatric cardiologist about when he thinks it's safe for kids who have had COVID-19 to return to sports.

Youth sports as we’ve know it mostly sidelined to keep kids safe from COVID-19. And while it isn’t likely for children who do get the virus to see severe symptoms, the threat of deadly heart damage sometimes caused by COVID-19 is a concern.

“COVID seems to impact the heart a little bit higher frequency than the flu or other viruses in our community,” says Dr. Peter Dean.

UVA pediatric cardiologist Dr. Peter Dean recently shared his take on sports safety for kids who have had COVID-19 with the American College of Cardiology. He says while myocarditis - or heart damage - is lower risk in kids with COVID-19, it can be a cause of sudden death in young athletes.

“If they're running around and they're having chest pain or they're feeling like they're getting short of breath more than usual or they've passed out with exercise, that's concerning. They need to be evaluated,” he said.

Dr. Dean says COVID-19 can cause significant heart damage in adults, and because of that, adult guidelines recommend several cardiac tests before returning to sports and physical activity. But for kids with mild or no symptoms from COVID-19, he says the bar can be a bit lower.

“But a kid who really didn't have any symptoms, very mild symptoms, I think it's… after the two-week window letting them get back into playing sports, I think is great. I think it's for their physical health, for their mental health, for lots of reasons. These things are important, and I would feel comfortable sending my kids back to playing sports,” Dr. Dean said.

He says children who develop the multi-symptom inflammatory syndrome from COVID-19 may need to be kept out of sports for three to six months and should undergo cardiac testing before getting back on the field.

Kids with moderate symptoms, like prolonged fevers, should be cleared on a case-by-case basis, and as a precautionary measure, Dr. Dean recommends having help within reach.

“Maybe making sure that we can call 911 and that we have a defibrillator and that, you know, people can respond and start CPR right away - things like that because those things really save lives,” he explained.

Dr. Dean says he’s also concerned that keeping kids from sports will increase childhood obesity, which is another risk factor for heart disease.

“I think that we have a problem pre-COVID. We had a problem with obesity and inactivity and kids, and I fear that we are making that worse.”

Dr. Dean says there is still a concern, though, that kids can contract COVID from group sports and infect older, more at-risk family members, so each family will have to make whatever decision they feel is best to protect their health.

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