When Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez was diagnosed with myocarditis as a result of his contracting COVID-19, there was a brief moment of fear among some in professional sports.
That the heart disease was becoming associated with the coronavirus was terrifying for a couple of reasons, mainly because these are otherwise young and healthy individuals and myocarditis requires a three-month period of complete rest, at minimum, before the athlete can try to exercise again.
But new research out of Massachusetts General Hospital and Emory University School of Medicine shows that myocarditis is much more rare than originally expected among athletes.
There were single-digit cases of myocarditis at MGH amongst thousands of athletes who tested positive for COVID-19, said Dr. Aaron Baggish, director of the cardiovascular performance program at MGH and author of the new findings.
“We’re seeing very little of it,” Baggish told the Herald. “Nobody is going to say it doesn’t exist, and nobody is going to say there won’t be rare isolated cases. But our recommendations really have to be catered to more of a public health approach.”
The purpose of the study was to alert doctors across the country that they can probably save resources on athletes who test positive for the coronavirus. Those with symptoms should be tested thoroughly, the study revealed.
But as long as they don’t have symptoms, they’re highly unlikely to develop any heart affects and hospitals should be saving resources for those who could be more likely to benefit.
“There are basically four principal tests we try to think about when we think of the evaluation of COVID heart injuries,” Baggish said. “It’s a standard ECG, which is not particularly costly. There’s a blood test for a heart protein called troponin, which is not particularly costly. Then there’s an echocardiogram which is an ultrasound test that does cost money and takes time and is hard to get en masse. And then of course there’s the MRI, which is most costly and is being used by a lot of places without a lot of data to support its use.
“But this is like every conversation about health care utilization. We don’t live in a world where health care resources are infinite. So we have to think about how to responsibly use what we have because every time we use something for one purpose, we take it away from another purpose.”
Rodriguez came down with the coronavirus just before the Red Sox were to begin their summer camp in July. An MRI revealed myocarditis, which requires three months of absolute rest to reduce inflammation in the heart.
But at the time, he was told only to rest for one week, a potentially dangerous instruction.
“The doctor told me just take a week, just rest, don’t get your heart rate up too much,” Rodriguez said on July 26. “Just rest for a week and we wait to see the next MRI what it says. If it goes out, if it goes away, just go back