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Olympic athletes could face illness upon returning home

Sunday - 8/12/2012, 6:26am  ET

AP: 1b3df8a8-7a2d-49ab-a24c-6c4f511d89c9
Runners pass by the Olympics flame on the first day of the athletics in the Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics, London, Friday, Aug. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa De Olza)

WASHINGTON - The London Summer Olympics come to an end Sunday but the athletes may have a harder return home than they anticipate.

It has been long thought that international travel increases your chances of getting sick because of the micro-organisms shared by recycled air on the planes.

But a new British Medical Journal study reveals that is not the problem. It's the different germs and food in the foreign country the elite athletes visit.

The study tracked hundreds of athletes who traveled across over five time zones to play in a rugby tournament two years ago, reports the BBC. Many of them got sick with respiratory conditions, stomach issues or had problems with their skin and soft tissue once they got there.

Team doctors reported more than 450 illnesses in 72 percent of players during the four-month tournament.

"The illness risk is not directly related to the travel itself," the researchers wrote. "But rather, the arrival and location of the team at a distant destination."

Aside from the jet lag from traveling through different time zones, the illnesses in the athletes could have been caused by environmental stressors such as pollution, humidity, allergens and altitude, according to the study.

WTOP's Veronica Johnson contributed to this report.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)