Brazil sees Olympic win over Zika threat

Of­fi­cials fear ath­letes will spread virus

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY TOM HOWELL JR.

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.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

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.

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