Young athletes who had COVID need careful screening, including cardiac exam, before resuming sports, doctors say

The start of spring sports at elementary, middle and high schools this year will be like none other. Because of rampant COVID-19 infections, pediatricians say they'll need to take a much closer look at your child's health.

That's something Angela Bustillos found out when she took her daughter, Gisele, for a screening before returning to gymnastics.

Bustillos says Giselle's gym had been closed for months, but the 11-year-old was anxious to hit the ground running.

"It's really fun, because I get new tricks," Gisele said.

But the young gymnast was sidelined again during the holidays, when she got COVID-19.

"My symptoms were fever, sore throat and an achy body," Gisele said.

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Giselle was able to get an examination by her own pediatrician to make sure she was in good health.

But Huntington Health pediatrician Dr. John Rodarte says young athletes who have recovered from COVID-19, like Giselle, need to be carefully screened before returning to sports.

"COVID-19, it has been known to actually affect the heart. And in particular cause something called myocarditis, or inflammation of the cardiac muscle," Dr. Rodarte said.

In mild myocarditis cases, young athletes might feel short of breath.

"In the worst case scenario, the heart stops, and it's a sudden cardiac death," Dr. Rodarte explained.

Because of the pandemic, the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued new guidance stating clearance for sports after COVID-19 should include cardiac screening.

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Dr. Rodarte says how much screening depends on the severity of illness and the intensity of the sport.

"Say high school sports, club teams, even national sport level type things -- that would probably also warrant an EKG and maybe an evaluation by a cardiologist," he said.

The AAP says any child who has had the virus, regardless of symptoms, must rest a minimum of two weeks before returning to exercise.

Parents also need to tell their child's doctor if anyone in the family had COVID-19.

Bustillos has good advice for other parents: "I would just recommend listening to your kids. If they complain about any type of pain, definitely don't ignore it."

Gisele adds for her fellow athletes: "Make sure you feel better and if you don't feel good, take a break."

Good advice, all around.

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