To determine the incidence of acute respiratory illness (ARill) in athletes and by method of diagnosis, anatomical classification, ages, levels of performance and seasons.
Systematic review and meta-analysis.
Electronic databases: PubMed-Medline, EbscoHost and Web of Science.
Original research articles published between January 1990 and July 2020 in English reporting the incidence of ARill in athletes, at any level of performance (elite/non-elite), aged 15–65 years.
Across all 124 studies (n=1 28 360 athletes), the incidence of ARill, estimated by dividing the number of cases by the total number of athlete days, was 4.7 (95% CI 3.9 to 5.7) per 1000 athlete days. In studies reporting acute respiratory infections (ARinf; suspected and confirmed) the incidence was 4.9 (95% CI 4.0 to 6.0), which was similar in studies reporting undiagnosed ARill (3.7; 95% CI 2.1 to 6.7). Incidences of 5.9 (95% CI 4.8 to 7.2) and 2.8 (95% CI 1.8 to 4.5) were found for studies reporting upper ARinf and general ARinf (upper or lower), respectively. The incidence of ARinf was similar across the different methods to diagnose ARinf. A higher incidence of ARinf was found in non-elite (8.7; 95% CI 6.1 to 12.5) vs elite athletes (4.2; 95% CI 3.3 to 5.3).
These findings suggest: (1) the incidence of ARill equates to approximately 4.7 per athlete per year; (2) the incidence of upper ARinf was significantly higher than general (upper/lower) ARinf; (3) elite athletes have a lower incidence of ARinf than non-elite athletes; (4) if pathogen identification is not available, physicians can confidently use validated questionnaires and checklists to screen athletes for suspected ARinf. For future studies, we recommend that a clear diagnosis of ARill is reported.
PROSPERO registration number