Playing with dengue is dangerous for athletes, warns Dr Mansingh
Sports medicine specialist Dr Akshai Mansingh has advised Jamaican athletes to allow their bodies sufficient time to recuperate from dengue before resuming their specific sports activities.
In September, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has declared an outbreak of the mosquito-borne disease on the island after surpassing the epidemic threshold for July and August. As at November 9, the country recorded over 3,000 suspected, presumed and confirmed cases with a total of nine dengue-related deaths.
Sources have told the Jamaica Observer that several players across sporting competitions, including the ongoing Manning Cup and daCosta Cup, have played with or are recovering from dengue.
Mansingh believes this is a dangerous practice due to the long-term complications it could bring.
“You will get muscle weakness, you get a decrease in immunity and depending on what phase you are, it can render you quite useless when it comes to sports because you’re weak and not able to function. As you recover, you regain your strength and I’ve seen [people] knocked down for up to a week where they can barely function and slowly work their way back up,” he told the Observer.
“There is a risk when you’re in the phase of weakness that if you overexert yourself, you can actually get worse and have worsening symptoms and weakness, you have to allow the body time to recover. When you’re sick at that stage, you also have a decreased immune system so you’re susceptible to further diseases and so on that you don’t want to catch because you have to give your body enough time to recover,” he added.
Dr Mansingh, who is also the dean of the Faculty of Sport at The University of the West Indies (The UWI), emphasised that crucially dengue does not only affect performance, but also long-term health.
“The difficult one is if you have one of the complications, especially dengue haemorrhagic fever. You can lose a lot of blood, so you can bleed internally or you could bleed spontaneously and that’s why they advise people not take certain painkilling medication because that thing causes bleeding internally and you won’t be able to recover. Likewise, if you have dengue haemorrhagic fever at any stage of recovery, your platelet levels are low, then playing is a risk, so football and netball are both contact sports so you can imagine if you get a cut or bruise, it can go to continuously bleeding and cause problems.
“You’re going to be weak anyhow, but you want to fully recover before you get back into sports for the risk of not just weakness and decreased immunity, but prolonged bleeding.”
In October, one of India’s star batsmen, Shubman Gill, was hospitalised after being diagnosed with dengue and missed the first two games of the 50-over Cricket World Cup. He returned for their third group game and the rest of the tournament but Gill spoke about losing muscle mass and coming down with after-effects of dengue which led to cramps and a pulled hamstring.
Mansingh warned athletes to be wise in terms of a timeline in returning to their respective sports.
“You have to gauge it to where you are in sports. Shubman Gill, he was in the middle of the Word Cup and there’s a tendency to try and return a bit earlier. Then I have seen people in Jamaica, for example, who are up for national trials in various sports and they are gauging between having to miss one and make the second and that kind of thing, and that obviously is a decision you make in conjuction with your doctor. But then you have people who are playing the full season of a sport and in that case, you’d want to be out sufficiently that you’re able to recover because you have a full season ahead of you, so if you’re in the middle of the season, just make sure you recover fully otherwise you’ll have lingering effects for the entire season,” he said.
In a press release earlier this month, the health and wellness ministry said fogging sessions continue across the island and “rest and adequate hydration are usually enough to see one through the period of illness”.
The recommended treatment for the fever is acetaminophen/paracetamol.