Football Sport

Malaria infection in football players, return to competition

THE life of a football player revolves around being fit during the season.

However there are times when setbacks such as injury or sickness occur and a player is not available for selection.
Players will ask when they are likely to get back to action after suffering an illness or injury.
In this situation, medical advice is important so that the player’s health is protected from either worsening the injury or illness.
Last Sunday, I added my views to this year’s theme for World Malaria Day.
The Theme was: “Ending Malaria for Good.”
Malaria has been around for many years and protecting sports men and women from the disease is key.
A week ago, a player from one of the top Super Division sides was down with malaria.
It is important that his recovery is followed well and the medical team decides on when he will return to the pitch.
The football season is three weeks old and there is a long way to go.
It is usual to have a key player missing from a competitive match because of malaria or any other illness.
I had experience with members of the national soccer team suffering from malaria whilst preparing for an important match and the coaches were eager to have a player back in training as soon as possible.
Malaria presents itself in different ways and the important thing to know is that it can be fatal in its severest form.
The severe form of malaria will certainly need hospital admission but the question of return to play will still come back upon recovery.
I will dwell briefly on some important issues surrounding simple and not complicated malaria in this case.
A player will complain of general body weakness and cannot cope with demands of training.
They will also have complaints of headache, backache, chills and joint pains.
Malaria is a great pretender and will manifest in unusual ways with some people having diarrhea, vomiting and dizziness. Some will have a cough and you might think they are having a flue or respiratory tract infection.
It is only when a malaria test which can be done through a blood slide or Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) and turns out to be positive that malaria is confirmed.
It is important for the medical staff of teams to be prepared to do a rapid malaria test in a player at the earliest possible time.
This will result in quick resolution of symptoms.
It must be appreciated that malaria infection in two players will affect them differently and some players will appear to be very sick while others will complain of only general body weakness.
In 2008, Ivory Coast defender Kolo Toure while playing in England suffered from malaria, which they described at the club as a resurgence of malaria and it took two weeks to fully return to training.
Emmanuel Adebayor suffered from malaria after returning to his club in England after visiting Togo in 2012.
After returning to England he narrated how he was weak for almost a week and could not train.
The experiences shared by the two players are similar to what has been observed in Zambian players and the issue still remains on the return to play.
Some players have returned to play even before they are given a go ahead by the medical team which has to be discouraged at all times.
One observation, which I have made in some players is concealing that they are not feeling well until such a time that they cannot cope with the effects of malaria.
By this time the malaria is quite advanced and has damaged the red blood cells, which are the targets of the parasites.
The damage to the red blood cells will result in anemia, which can explain the dizziness and headaches.
The anemia will also result in getting tired easily.
In today’s discussion, it is not the way someone contracts malaria and its treatment which is the area of focus but having an insight on the time it must take to return to active competition.
The following are some of the determinants on how long someone with malaria will take before they return to active competition:
The severity of malaria
How prompt the diagnosis is made
How soon treatment is started
If the predominant symptoms are those of the gastro-intestinal tract such as vomiting and diarrhea-return to play will take longer
Anaemia in an already anaemic player before the malaria attack will result in a much longer time to return to play
The key issue is to make sure that correct diagnosis and prompt treatment have to take centre stage.
It is important to give someone who has finished taking anti-malarial drugs and fully recovered at least 10-14 days before allowing them to return to training.
Close monitoring of players recovering from malaria is important and the return to competition has to take a stepwise progression so that you allow the body systems to return to normal physiological functioning.
Exercise and competition is stressful to the body especially after suffering from malaria.
For the complicated malaria, the period to return to play is even longer and the player will need close medical attention and monitoring.
Though some regions in this country have recorded significant reductions in the number of malaria cases, it is important that all players presenting with signs and symptoms of malaria are diagnosed and promptly treated.
This will not only improve there general well being but will be key in facilitating return to active competition.
For questions and comments write to: Dr Kabungo Joseph
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