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Hepatitis Health Center

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Protect Young Athletes From HIV and Hepatitis -- But Don't Exclude Infected Students From Sports

WebMD Health News

Dec. 7, 1999 (Atlanta) -- Student athletes and their coaches should take special steps to protect themselves from infection -- not just from HIV but also from Hepatitis B and C, which are more easily transmitted via exposure to infected blood, according to a statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in this month's journal Pediatrics.

The report also underscores the point that "there is no basis for excluding any student from sports if they are infected, and that we should also try to protect the confidentiality of that athlete," Steven Anderson, MD, chairman of the Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness that drafted the policy, tells WebMD in an interview.

"Of course, we can't legislate whether people worry or not, but there's not the concern that there was five or six years ago. We're beyond that point, where kids are afraid to get on the same court with someone who is HIV-positive," says Anderson, a pediatrics professor at the University of Washington in Seattle -- as well as team doctor for numerous high school athletic teams, ballet companies, and the U.S. Olympic Diving Team.

The risk of HIV infection via skin or mucous membrane exposure to blood or other infectious bodily fluids during sports is "very low," says Anderson. "HBV [Hepatitis B] is more easily transmitted via exposure to infected blood than is HIV."

Immunization is the most effective way of preventing HBV infection. Although transmission is "rare" in sports, the AAP statement cites two cases. In one U.S. incident, a high school sumo wrestler transmitted HBV to other members of his team. In Sweden, an HBV epidemic occurred among a group of track athletes (epidemiologists concluded that the most likely route of infection was the use of water contaminated with infected blood to clean wounds caused by branches and thorns).

Although the transmission risks of Hepatitis C (HCV) infection are not completely understood, the risk of exposure via infected blood is estimated to be 10 times greater than that of HIV but lower than that of HBV.

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