Injury and illness sustained by human competitors in the 2010 Iditarod Sled Dog Race

Published:February 26, 2014DOI:



      Alaska's 1049-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is the world's longest sled dog race and the flagship event in the sport of sled dog racing. Race conditions are typically harsh. Physicians are not officially enlisted to care for human competitors. Instead, medical needs are met through an informal system of volunteers, local health care providers, and a fleet of bush planes. The goals of this study were to identify the types of human injury and illness experienced and the methods by which these conditions are treated.


      Competitors in the 2010 Iditarod were surveyed at the halfway point and at the finish of the race. Survey elements included specific types and frequencies of injuries and illnesses, and the sources and types of treatments.


      Seventy-one teams entered the race, 62 participated in the halfway point survey, and 55 completed the finish line survey. Ninety-nine injuries were reported by 42 (68%) of the survey respondents. Frostbite was the most common injury, occurring in 20 (31%) of the respondents. Musculoskeletal pain was also commonly reported. Two mushers sustained closed head injuries, with 1 requiring evacuation. Twenty-three mushers (37%) reported an acute nontraumatic condition, most frequently an upper respiratory infection (9 respondents). In most instances, medical conditions were self-managed. Race veterinarians and support staff, as well as local village clinicians, administered the majority of care, typically wound care or oral antibiotic administration.


      Most injuries and illnesses sustained by mushers in the Iditarod are minor and self-treatable. Life-threatening conditions are rare, and the need for an organized medical care system seems low.
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