Brazil sees Olympic win over Zika threat
Officials fear athletes will spread virus
Olympic officials are forging ahead with the Summer Games in the country where the ominous Zika outbreak began, betting the Brazilian winter and months of prep work will triumph over disease-carrying insects and critics who say the event could scatter the virus around the globe.
U.S. women’s soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo is on track to compete in Rio de Janeiro despite initial wariness. Golfers Vijay Singh of Fiji and Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and others are dropping out, saying they won’t take their chances with a mosquito-borne illness that causes birth defects and has been linked to debilitating syndromes.
Thousands of people will flock to the games in August, sparking fears that visitors will become infected in the South American hot zone and carry Zika back to their corners of the globe.
More than 150 health specialists called on officials last month to postpone or move the games. They argue the virus is still rampant in Brazil, where doctors in 2015 spotted a first-of-its-kind link between the virus and an uptick in babies born with abnormally small heads.
The International Olympic Committee is relying on guidance from the World Health Organization to defend the games.
The WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the Olympics will amount to a tiny blip in potential transmission of Zika, though they advise pregnant women to stay away if they can.
“Travel to the Olympics accounts for less than one-quarter of 1 percent of all travel to Zika-affected areas,” CDC Director Tom Frieden told Congress last week. “So even if the Olympics didn’t exist, 99.75 percentplus of the risk of spread would continue.”
As a result, analysts say, it makes more sense to defend against infection than scrap the highly anticipated event, which was awarded to Rio in 2009.
Team USA will house athletes and staff in air-conditioned quarters and distribute bug repellant and long sleeves and pants as part of the delegation’s casual wear so they can avoid mosquito bites. It also will hand out condoms because the disease can be sexually transmitted for at least six months.
U.S. men’s indoor volleyball coach John Speraw told The New York Times that he plans to freeze his sperm ahead of the games, because the 44-year-old coach and his wife don’t want to wait for any infection to dissipate before they try to have another baby.
Others are not going to Rio at all. Earlier this month, American cyclist Tejay van Garderen withdrew from consideration for Team USA because his wife is expecting their second child.
Australian golfer Marc Leishman pulled out in May, citing his wife’s recovering health after a near-fatal illness.
“Last April my children and I almost lost my wife Audrey to Toxic Shock Syndrome. Since then Audrey has been prone to infection and is far removed from 100 percent recovery of her immune system,” Mr. Leishman said in a statement released by PGA Australia.
Among nonathletes, NBC “Today” show host Savannah Guthrie recently announced she is pregnant and will not travel to Rio.
To protect those who do travel, the IOC said venues will be inspected daily for puddles of stagnant water where mosquitoes can breed.
“Our partners in Rio continue to work on minimizing the risk of visitors coming into contact with the mosquitoes that spread the virus,” the committee said in a statement to The Washington Times.
“It is also important to note that the Rio 2016 Games will take place during the winter months of August and September, when the drier, cooler climate significantly reduces the presence of mosquitoes and therefore the risk of infection,” it said. Others aren’t so sure. Zika is new to Brazil, so no one knows if transmission will dip far enough to make a serious dent in the mosquito population, said Amir Attaran, a population health professor at the University of Ottawa.
“Sports fans who are wealthy enough to visit Rio’s Games choose Zika’s risks for themselves,” Mr. Attaran wrote in recent commentary for the Harvard Public Health Review, “but when some of them return home infected, their fellow citizens bear the risk too — meaning that the upside is for the elite, but the downside is for the masses.”
Rio de Janierio Olympic officials are pressing on with preps for the Summer Games, saying that the Southern Hemisphere’s winter months will allow time for instituting measures to head off Zika virus concerns.
Despite the Zika virus, U.S. women’s soccer goalkeeper remains on track to go to Rio.
Golfers Rory McIlroy (left) and Vijay Singh will not compete at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, citing Zika concerns.