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Penn State clarifies comments on coronavirus and myocarditis made by team physician


Comments made by the team doctor for Penn State’s football team about coronavirus being associated with myocarditis are inflated, according to a spokesperson for the university.

The university clarified the previous statements made by Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli, who reportedly said earlier this week that more than one-third of Big Ten athletes infected with COVID-19 who underwent cardiac scans showed signs of myocarditis, an inflammatory condition of the heart.

During his discussion with board members, he recalled initial preliminary data that had been verbally shared by a colleague on a forthcoming study, which unbeknownst to him at the time had been published at a lower rate.

— Penn State University spokesperson

“Dr. Sebastianelli was asked by a local school board to discuss high school preparations and precautions for holding sporting events during the pandemic and the potential impact of COVID-19 on the health of student-athletes,” a spokesperson said in a statement shared with Fox News. “During his discussion with board members, he recalled initial preliminary data that had been verbally shared by a colleague on a forthcoming study, which unbeknownst to him at the time had been published at a lower rate. The research was not conducted by Dr. Sebastianelli or Penn State. Dr. Sebastianelli wishes to clarify this point, and apologize for any confusion.”

The statement also read, “Additionally, some have inferred his comments may have related directly to Penn State student athletes. At this time, there have been no cases of myocarditis in COVID-19 positive student-athletes at Penn State.”

University Park, Pennsylvania, USA – June 21, 2018: The outside of Beaver Stadium. Beaver Stadium is the home stadium of the Penn State University Nittany Lions NCAA college football team.

Dr. Robert Glatter, a former NFL sideline physician and emergency department physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, further discussed the severity of myocarditis in a statement to Fox News.

“Myocarditis is a serious complication associated with COVID-19 and can be fatal if undetected. It can present with dangerous cardiac arrhythmias leading to cardiac arrest. However, it may also be asymptomatic.”

Myocarditis was reportedly one of the factors leading to the Big Ten and PAC-12 vote to postpone their fall sports seasons, according to reports.


Dr. Ossama Samuel, a cardiologist with Mount Sinai Hospital’s Center for post-COVID Care in New York City, told Fox News in an email that the incidence of myocardial involvement in athletes with COVID-19 is still unknown.

“Despite the fact that the risk is likely low,” Samuel said, “there is great concern regarding the potential for arrhythmia, heart failure or sudden death in young athletes who may have contracted COVID and developed myocarditis which may not always be so clear to diagnose.”

Samuel also suggested that athletes not return to competition or aggressive training without undergoing testing to rule out cardiac conditions after being infected with COVID-19.

“The risk is likely higher in athletes who had severe symptoms during their acute illness. And if myocarditis was proven or strongly suspected, a 3-6 month of exercise restriction depending on the severity of the clinical presentation, initial left ventricular function, the degree of inflammation on CMR and the course of their progress should be considered,” Samuel said.


Dr. Matthew Martinez, immediate past chair of the American College of Cardiology Sports and Exercise Council, said the coronavirus pandemic has prompted doctors to look closer at the effects of symptomatic myocarditis, although there’s still much to be learned.

“The important message should be to recognize symptomatic myocarditis and identify cardiac involvement to prevent adverse events,” Martinez said. “With COVID19, we are looking more often for cardiac involvement then we normally do for viral infections and these abnormal cardiac findings may well be present during a bad flu season. We don’t have good controls, don’t know what it means for risk of sudden death, this may not be ‘typical’ myocarditis.  We need data on incidence and don’t yet know what the long-term pattern of resolution is.”

Symptoms to look for include “breathlessness at rest or with exertion, fever for more than one day, chest pressure, unexplained fast heart rates or new irregular heartbeats,” Martinez said.

Dr. Jordan Metzl, a sports physician at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, told Fox News that anyone looking to return to exercise needs to be careful after a COVID-19 infection.

“If you’ve had COVID and you want to return to exercise, it’s important to go slow, especially at the beginning,” Metzl said. “There are some people, even those who are young and healthy, who develop myocarditis after COVID infection and the risk of dangerous issues such as arrhythmias and heart attacks are much greater in this population.”

Another recent study exploring COVID-19 in 100 recovered patients found that 78% had “cardiac involvement” and 60% had “ongoing myocardial inflammation,” according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Doctors can detect the condition through an echocardiogram and cardiac markers in most cases, but an MRI allows for more certainty in diagnosing the condition,” Glatter told Fox News.

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