Case Study 1: Medical matters
Dr Niall Elliott, Sports Medicine Physician and Deputy Head of Sports Medicine, sportscotland institute of sport. Niall is part of the team led by Dr Brian Walker, Head of Sports Medicine.
For the past 10 years, and since 2010 in a full-time capacity, Dr Niall Elliott has been applying his medical expertise as part of the High Performance multi-disciplinary team at the sportscotland institute of sport to support athletes, including the Scots vying to don a 2012 Olympic vest.
University of Dundee trained and qualified, Niall is also one of seven doctors from around the UK who will work with Team GB Medical HQ in London during the Games.
This is a physician ideally placed to offer insights into the vital role the medical team plays to ensure Scotland’s top athletes arrive at the London Olympic Opening Ceremony with the fitness and health to go for gold.
And while Niall points out that the risk of contracting the likes of Travellers’ Diarrhoea (‘Delhi-belly’), a gastro-intestinal infection that exercised the minds of the medical team prior to the 2010 Commonwealth Games, is less likely at these ‘home’ Games, no-one in the medical team is complacent about the wide-ranging factors that could adversely impact on the health of the fifty-plus Scottish athletes who hope to make Team GB.
For example, in a Games environment, where up to 17,000 athletes and support staff are in close proximity - and with most flu epidemics starting in the Far East - he explains why even the polite greeting of a hand-shake can pose an element of risk for a highly trained athlete.
“It’s estimated up to 25% of time lost from training is due to infection – contracting such as viral airway infections or gastrointestinal illness. And we know that the high levels of training an elite athlete inflicts on their body can compromise the immune system and so raise his or her exposure to infection. The difference between success and failure at this level of sport can be swayed by contracting an infectious illness.
“In a major Games environment that risk is heightened. So encouraging athletes to minimise hand-shaking, a potential source of contracting hand-to-mouth bugs and encouraging use of alcohol-based hand gels are examples of many steps we take to maximise the effectiveness of infection control standards.
“In Delhi, the Scottish camp incurred lower than expected rates of illness. In part, this was due to ensuring athletes adhered to an effective hand-washing technique. But it’s also important to remind athletes how infection can be spread. So in addition to hand-washing and minimising shaking hands, simple steps like an ill relative being discouraged from visiting an athlete in the Games village can all help prevent the spread of infection.”
In addition to imparting medical advice and implementing effective hygiene control protocols, part of the medical team’s ‘kit bag’ of responsibilities also involves regularly liaising with coaching staff to monitor an athlete for signs of illness.
And while Niall admits viral infections are an ever present threat within a young, healthy population of athletes, the medical team has even taken steps to alleviate the potential adverse health effects of flora planted within the Olympic Village!
“Itchy eyes, a runny nose and respiratory symptoms due to an allergic reaction to certain plant types will adversely affect the performance of, say, a shooter. As a result, across Team GB we are working to identify and test athletes who may be prone to hayfever. And once identified, it’s our role to ensure the athlete receives the appropriate advice, including knowing the correct procedure to follow to access medication that complies with the latest doping control guidelines.”