Paris (AFP)

Already the object of attention in normal times because very stressed, the hearts of athletes affected by the coronavirus are under surveillance when they resume activity because, like the influenza virus, it can attack the heart muscle and cause very rare cases of sudden death.

"We can have heart muscle damage and the possibility of arrhythmias. If there is a sequel that we are trying to identify, it is really this one, because cardiac damage can involve the prognosis vital ", explains to AFP Sébastien Le Garrec, head of the medical pole of Insep (National Institute of sport, expertise and performance).

Thus, when an athlete affected by the Covid is cured, he has a complete check-up before resuming training.

Since the start of September, 160 cases of Covid have been counted at Insep, but no serious form.

"None of them had myocarditis, but we had a few who had lung damage, and a few who were very tired," explains Sébastien Le Garrec.

Back in the establishment, the examinations include an electrocardiogram, a cardiac ultrasound, additional stress test, and if necessary an MRI.

At the Stade Français, very affected last summer, "each player who resumes trains below 80% of his maximum heart rate as long as he has not been seen by the cardiologist" to do tests, explains to AFP Eliott Rubio, rugby club doctor.

Among the players he follows, "none" had a heart injury, he added.

- Study at Bordeaux University Hospital -

In this sport, third row William Wavrin, who plays at Stade Mons (ProD2), was one of the few to develop myocarditis by contracting Covid.

He resumed training in early March, after a complete hiatus of several months, reported the daily Sud-Ouest.

After a viral infection, such as the flu, sports cardiologists recommend turning your heartbeat green the week after infection.

The advice is ignored, but viral myocarditis can indeed lead to sudden death.

Jean-François Toussaint, director of Irmes (Institute for Biomedical Research and Sports Epidemiology), confirms that we must be very vigilant when resuming.

"It's exceptional, but we know that it exists and we know that we have no treatment," he explains.

To find out more about what Covid does to the heart, including for athletes who have been affected by mild or even asymptomatic forms, a large-scale study was launched at the Bordeaux University Hospital last spring.

It relies on a large panel of athletes, including several hundred Top 14 and ProD2 rugby players, Staps students as well as Raid police officers.

The idea, explained doctors Laurent Chevalier and Isabelle Pellegrin, is to "detect the rhythmic risk in COVID + athletes in connection with occult myocardial scars highlighted by cardiac MRI".

The results of this study, called Asccovid19 (for "Heart and Covid sports activity), are not yet known.

In the United States, a survey conducted by the medical journal JAMA Cardiology, carried out in collaboration with medical experts from the NFL (American football), the NBA (basketball), the MLB (baseball), the MLS (football) , NHL (ice hockey) and WNBA (women's basketball), on athletes who tested positive between May and October 2020, found that only 5 out of 789 players suffered from inflammatory heart disease.

The Bordeaux University Hospital study could also serve as a teaching for the resumption of sport among amateur athletes, especially since the coronavirus thrives in the general population and in younger subjects.

© 2021 AFP