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12-08-2012 | Gastroenterology | Article

Playing away stops bugs being kept at bay


Free abstract

MedWire News: Elite athletes who travel to compete in countries with a time zone difference of over 5 hours are more than twice as likely to fall ill as are athletes who remain in their home country, write researchers in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The reasons for the higher incidence of illness associated with travel were not completely clear, but could be due to various causes including "the prolonged and strenuous nature of the competition, exposure to different environmental conditions (temperature, humidity, atmospheric pollution, aeroallergen exposure) and variation of diet," suggest Martin Schwellnus (University of Cape Town, Newlands, South Africa) and team.

"In addition, players travelling between continents may also be exposed to different strains of pathogenic organisms."

The researchers collected health information from the team physicians attending 259 elite rugby players who were participating in the 2010 Super 14 Rugby Union tournament over 16 weeks.

Overall, 469 incidences of illness were reported by 187 of the players during the 16 weeks, with a mean incidence of 20.7 cases per 1000 player-days. The most commonly reported illnesses were respiratory (30.9%), digestive (27.5%), and skin and subcutaneous tissue related (22.5%). Most reported illnesses were infections of some sort.

The investigators found that the number of illnesses reported among the athletes was significantly higher when they were playing in a different country with more than 5 hours time difference than when they were playing at home and after returning from international travel, at 32.6 versus 15.4 and 10.6 cases per 1000 player-days, respectively.

"Identification of this period where athletes are at higher risk allows the team physician to plan certain preventative measures and have increased vigilance during this time," note the authors.

"In recent years, there has been an increasing focus on not only the prevention of injuries, but also the protection of the health of the athlete. It is particularly relevant to consider medical illness in elite athletes who participate in events and tournaments lasting for days to a few weeks," they conclude.

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2012

By Helen Albert, Senior MedWire Reporter

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