Will the Zika Virus Outbreak Affect the Rio Games? International Olympic Committee Offers Advice to Teams

"We remain confident that there will be a safe environment for successful and enjoyable Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro," says the IOC

Photo: Felipe Dana/AP

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has informed teams competing in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics this summer of the best practices for staying safe from the Zika virus that Brazilian authorities suspect has infected a million people in the country.

The IOC’s statement to various national Olympic committees on Friday explained how athletes and visitors should take cautionary measures to prevent contracting the mosquito-borne illness that causes severe birth defects and is “spreading explosively” according to the World Health Organization.

The medical advice details procedures on how to avoid mosquito bites, including wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants and using mosquito repellent.

“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 mosquitoes breed – are removed, therefore minimizing the risk of athletes and visitors coming into contact with mosquitos,” said the IOC.

“At the same time, National Olympic Committees should consult with their national health authorities to get advice and guidance.”

“The IOC remains in close contact with the WHO (World Health Organization) to ensure that we have access to the most up-to-date information and guidance, from now through to Games time,” the IOC’s medical commission said.

“We remain confident that there will be a safe environment for successful and enjoyable Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.”

The U.S. Olympic Committee is closely following developments regarding the spread of Zika and working with the IOC and WHO.

“Additionally we’re taking steps to ensure that our delegation and those affiliated with Team USA are aware of the CDC’s recommendations regarding travel to Brazil,” USOC spokesperson Patrick Sandusky said in a statement.

Rio’s Olympic organizing committee spokesman Mario Andrada says the Games will not be postponed or cancelled, reports ABC News.

“We’re not even thinking of that. This has never been mentioned. No way. It’s impossible to do that. There is no reason to do that,” he told the news station.

The virus has been linked to microcephaly, a rare condition causing incomplete brain development in infants, and there is no reported vaccine or treatment for it.

Brazil reported its first case in May 2015 and the virus has since spread within the country and to 22 other countries, according to the WHO.

Eduardo Paes, mayor of Rio de Janeiro, said Thursday he doesn’t think the Zika virus “is a problem for the Games,” noting that they take place in August, the South American winter season, when mosquito populations “will be much easier,” the Associated Press reports.

Some national Olympic committees have already issued warnings to their athletes, though.

In a statement released Wednesday, the Australian Olympic Committee said, “any Team members who are pregnant at the time of the Games need to consider the risks very carefully before deciding whether to proceed with travels to Brazil.”

“The health and wellbeing of all our Team members is paramount, especially those females in the Team of child bearing age. We have a responsibility to ensure that we educate and inform all prospective Team members of the potential risks and to put in place whatever mitigating measures we can,” Australian Team Chef de Mission, Kitty Chiller said.

WHO’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee will meet on Monday to decide whether the Zika outbreak constitutes a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.”

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