Chronic Undiagnosed Viral Infection in Competitive Athletes

By Stephen Parcell, ND, RND

In a study on elite athletes with persistent fatigue 27% were found to have chronic viral infections. Viral illness as a cause of long term fatigue often goes undetected unless specific blood work is are requested. In this study eight of 37 athletes tested (22%) were actively secreting Epstein Barr virus (EBV) into their saliva at the time of testing. The detection of EBV shedding suggests immune dysregulation and may contribute to the symptoms experienced by these athletes. EBV reactivation has recently been established in swimmers engaged in intensive training, and is thought to result from exercise induced alterations in the immune mechanisms responsible for controlling viral reactivation.

Evidence infection was also found for cytomegalovirus (five cases), EBV (three cases), Ross River virus (one case), toxoplasmosis (one case), and mycoplasma (one case). Eight of the 37 subjects tested (22%) were found to have evidence of EBV viral shedding in their saliva at the time of investigation, indicating EBV reactivation.

In my practice I have found that chronic, EBV infection (reactivation) to be present at even higher percentages. Specific blood work needs to be done to determine this. Most doctors are not trained in the detection of chronic viral infection in athletes.

Treatment options include antiviral medication, ultraviolet blood irradiation, immune support, modification of training and plant derived antiviral extracts.

STUDY: Reid VL, Gleeson M, Williams N, et al. Clinical investigation of athletes with persistent fatigue and/or recurrent infections. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2004;38:42-45.