Two years after a strain of coronavirus struck down Mina Bibi Malick, a 63-year-old Pakistani runner who competed at the 2015 Asian Games in Jakarta, the case has led to a ban on future Pakistani competitions by the country’s national governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations.
Ms. Malick died at a hospital in Abbottabad in May 2015, just four months after she was released from the hospital and well past the point of recovery, according to Al Jazeera. Just last week, Pakistani authorities said they would be reversing the ban. The CDC, which discovered the outbreak of the coronavirus in 2010, has not identified a single case of a woman contracting the virus from professional sports. Yet an analysis of coronavirus infections from World Health Organization databases showed 38 cases of women contracting the virus between 2010 and 2015. Of those, 23 were at high risk for having developed severe acute respiratory illness, including 28 during competitive events. The rest of the cases did not have any signs of pre-existing health problems, according to the CDC.
Coronavirus infections have targeted professional athletes in the past. For example, three-time Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross of the United States was hospitalized in 2015 after she was diagnosed with a respiratory infection contracted from competitors at a track meet she was competing in. Other professional athletes have been struck by the illness and are said to have contracted it while performing at a race or during training.
Coronavirus, which can cause severe breathing difficulties and respiratory failure, was first detected in China in 2002. Since then, the CDC has linked the deadly virus to 261 cases, including 69 deaths. Of those, nearly all were in humans, and none appeared to be caused by intentional animal (or human) contact. Researchers are still trying to determine how the illness — which has been linked to penicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria — is contracted.
“The coronavirus, unlike any other known virus, causes this terrible illness — as the patients are so ill, their bodies heal the virus,” Ashish Jha, an infectious disease specialist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, said in an interview. “This has very strong parallels with other viral infections — including some kinds of influenza — where patients are left with weak immune systems and become susceptible to viral infections.”
The symptoms of human coronavirus infection often resemble those of colds and flu. Symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, body aches, nausea, and dehydration, according to the CDC. The illness can last for several days to a week and is easily treated with antiviral medications. However, in rare cases, the virus has caused extensive organ damage. The illness is known to be fatal, particularly when it strikes during pregnancy. A woman is particularly vulnerable as her baby is just a few weeks old, the earliest period at which the infection could manifest itself.
The Coronavirus Association was formed in an effort to monitor the spread of the illness and the possible transmission of the virus to livestock in an effort to prevent its spread to consumers, livestock and other animals. To date, only the name coronavirus has been listed, which has led some to criticize the organization for perpetuating a false sense of security.
“I have never worked with a virus so small and so unknown to society,” Dr. Jha said. “It is, technically, a mystery. It has very little money to do much research. It is certainly not likely to ever become a model for this model of human infectious disease surveillance.”