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Athletes assured of safety from ZIKV in Brazil

Published:Wednesday | April 27, 2016 | 12:03 AMKeisha Hill
Aedes aegypti mosquito

Athletes assured of safety from ZIKV in Brazil

AS THE 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, draws closer, the threat of the zika virus (ZIKV) has remained a concern for the hundreds of thousands of athletes and fans alike who will be journeying there from around the world to attend the much-anticipated event.

Come July, Jamaican athletes will join the rest of the world in Brazil for one of the world's biggest sporting events.

As the athletes continue to prepare to compete against the best of the best, the Jamaica Olympic Association (JOA) said they have been creating awareness within the different sporting disciplines to ensure that all athletes likely to attend the Olympics are follow the advice of the International Olympics Committee (IOC) as it relates to the mosquito-borne ZIKV.

Vishu Tolan, first vice president of the JOA, said they have had continuous meetings since the beginning of the year regarding the issue with the local national federations, which have athletes who are likely to qualify for the games.

"Over the last two months we have been discussing the whole question of the zika virus with them, keeping them up to date with what the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee and the IOC and the WHO (World Health Organization) have been saying regarding the virus. We are expecting that they in turn would pass that information back to the athletes," Tolan told The Gleaner.

The IOC, he said, has assured teams traveling to the games that they would be safe from the zika virus, but has urged visitors to carefully protect themselves while in the region.

"On that basis they are saying it is safe to go to Brazil. However, they are also saying that you should be prudent. If you believe that there is a threat or if mosquitoes are there then you should go prepared," Tolan said.

The IOC, Tolan said, has offered advice to minimise the risk of infection from the virus, and said as indicated by the IOC that travelers to Brazil should consult their national health authorities.




Brazil has been the country hardest hit by the outbreak of the mosquito-borne virus in Latin America, and has seen a sharp rise in infants born with the brain abnormality microcephaly, reportedly caused by the disease. Cases of microcephaly, which can cause brain damage or death, have risen to 3,893 since the zika virus outbreak began last May. 49 of the babies have died.

ZIKV, a close cousin of dengue and chikungunya, causes rash, mild fever, joint pain and red eyes. Considered a mild disease, some 80 per cent of those infected typically do not have symptoms, making it difficult for pregnant women to determine if they have the virus. No vaccine or treatment is currently available.

However, the main concern is ZIKV's link to the more serious microcephaly; Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS); and another autoimmune disease that targets the peripheral nerves; an autoimmune condition known as acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM). As well as the fact that it can also be sexually transmitted.

This is the first time a South American and Portuguese-speaking nation will host these events and the third time the Olympics will be held in a Southern Hemisphere city. The ZIKV outbreak is worrying officials, as the country prepares to host the Olympics, which will bring some 10,000 athletes with tens of thousands more staff, officials and media attending the world's biggest sporting event. Added to that are the hundreds of thousands of spectators and visitors expected to be in the Brazilian city in August.

Much of the effort against the illness focuses on protecting people from mosquito bites and reducing the mosquito population. The IOC has tried to quell fears among athletes and has distributed guidance, using information from WHO.

WHO has declared the outbreak of ZIKV an international public health emergency, as the virus spreads throughout the Americas and the Caribbean, with approximately 36 countries affected.




Tolan said recommendations so far include using mosquito repellent and wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants and treating clothing with an insect repellent. Women who may be pregnant have been urged to discuss the trip with their health care provider. Athletes are also being warned not to leave windows or doors open when staying in Rio and use air conditioning instead.

"The IOC remains in close contact with the WHO to ensure that we have access to the most up-to-date information and guidance on ZIKV, from now through to the games," Tolan said.

Organisers, he said, are already monitoring Olympic facilities to destroy breeding grounds for the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the main carrier of ZIKV.

"A plan has already been put in place for the games venues in the lead-up to and at games time, which will see them inspected on a daily basis in order to ensure that any puddles of stagnant water where the mosquitoes breed are removed, therefore minimising the risk of athletes and visitors coming into contact with mosquitoes," Tolan said.

Mosquitoes, he indicated, do not thrive well in cold weather and dry conditions. The Olympics will be held during Brazil's winter, which is expected to help minimise the risk.

"Rio 2016 will also continue to follow the virus prevention and control measures provided by the authorities, and will provide the relevant guidance to games athletes and visitors. We remain confident that there will be a safe environment for successful and enjoyable Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro," Tolan said.




Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff has vowed to wage a 'house-by-house fight' against the zika virus. Rousseff said Brazil would place "extreme emphasis" on wiping out mosquito breeding grounds, combating transmission of the disease and looking for a vaccine against ZIKV.

An announcement was also made that some 200,000 soldiers would be deployed to go house to house as part of a mosquito control campaign. Insect repellents will be handed out to at least 400,000 pregnant women.

In the past, the IOC has had to deal with other health concerns for the games, most notably the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Many athletes at that time were worried about the effects of poor air quality there. In response, China shut down half the cars in the city and many polluting factories in the lead-up to the games. The IOC praised the efforts and many athletes expressed that it was fine, but the air quality before the games was still above WHO's safety limit.

One of the most notable health issues at the games came in 1984 when a British runner collapsed with respiratory issues at the Los Angeles Olympics, citing air pollution which caused 'exercise-induced' asthma.

The United Nation's health agency warned on Monday of the potential for a 'marked increase' in ZIKV infections, and the spread of the virus to new parts of the world, even as the outbreak is now on the decline in Brazil. A very high percentage of the country's population had contracted the disease.