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Athletes in cough risk after outbreak

Date

Chris Dutton, David Polkinghorne

Australian women's water polo captain Kate Gynther sits on the empty AIS pool deck.

Australian women's water polo captain Kate Gynther sits on the empty AIS pool deck. Photo: Colleen Petch

The Australian Institute of Sport claims there's no need to quarantine its athletes just 36 days out from the Olympic Games despite admitting some may be at a ''high risk'' to a contagious outbreak of whooping cough.

AIS doctors will scramble in the coming days to check immunisation records of athletes on campus after it was confirmed two players from Australia's London-bound women's water polo team - Melissa Rippon and Nicola Zagame - and a coach were infected.

But while the trio and the rest of the water polo team have been put in isolation, institute medical staff are adamant the bacterial disease will not force the sporting hub into a lockdown.

Dr Kieran Fallon talks to the media about the whooping cough outbreak.

Dr Kieran Fallon talks to the media about the whooping cough outbreak. Photo: Colleen Petch

Swimming Australia cancelled a camp which was scheduled to begin in Canberra today after the news broke yesterday.

It is also understood Swimming Australia is likely to recommend its six AIS-based athletes headed to the Olympics have blood tests to ensure they are clear of the illness.

To prevent a virus outbreak, the women's water polo team has not been allowed into the AIS dining hall and hand sanitisers have been put in the gym.

The pool which the team used to train in remains open.

Whooping cough is an air-borne virus but AIS doctor Kieran Fallon doesn't fear it will be spread across a variety of sports based at the Bruce campus.

''It's not rampantly contagious, [but] it is contagious,'' Fallon said.

''If they [athletes] follow immunisation guidelines, they should be protected against the disease.

''[If they haven't] they are at a high risk.

''There's a two-prong approach - one is to go back to a number of athlete groups here and try to determine their immunisation status. If it's unsatisfactory they will be vaccinated, that will have to be pretty soon.''

AIS doctor Greg Lovell sent Rippon for blood tests ''on a hunch'' after the water polo star had a persistent cough for the past two weeks.

When the blood tests returned positive on Monday, the rest of the team was sent for tests.

Two more came back positive, but Zagame and a coach have shown no symptoms.

Rippon was immediately started on antibiotics and will be free to return to training as early as today.

Whooping cough is particularly serious when contracted by children and it can continue for five weeks.

The women's water polo team is considered a strong medal chance at the London Olympics.

Australian captain Kate Gynther has been vaccinated against the disease, but admitted the squad was nervous when Rippon was first diagnosed.

''We've had great support from the doctors and now we're well aware of the results and the measures in place, everyone is feeling quite comfortable,'' Gynther said.

''It's a minor setback for us. It's not ideal to have [Rippon] miss a couple of training sessions but Zagame hasn't missed any. It's by no means the end of the world. Naturally I think everyone was a little bit nervous, but everything was handled really well.''

AIS Director Matt Favier said he supported Swimming Australia's decision not to hold a camp at the AIS and added: ''As far as we're aware, we've done all we can do as quickly as we possibly can to react and respond to this issue.''

Swimming Australia head coach Leigh Nugent said he didn't want to risk the health of his athletes.

''For us it's just a precautionary thing with our team,'' Nugent said.

''We're getting close to the Olympics now … so we don't want anyone at risk. Travelling at any time involves risk but when we've had a situation like this, even though it might be a low-risk, it's a high-risk for us leading into the Olympics. Our athletes now are under quite a heavy load for training and they're susceptible.''

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