"Obviously, we are not going to risk taking Kenyans there if this Zika virus reaches epidemic levels," the chairman of the Kenyan Olympic Committee said

By Tiare Dunlap
Updated February 09, 2016 03:15 PM
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Credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty

Kenya may pull out of this year’s Rio Olympics due to concerns over the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil.

“Obviously, we are not going to risk taking Kenyans there if this Zika virus reaches epidemic levels,” Kipchoge Keino, chairman of the Kenyan Olympic Committee, said, according to the Guardian.

The outbreak of the mosquito-borne virus has been linked to microcephaly, a birth defect marked by an abnormally small head. Public health officials in Brazil are investigating more than 4,000 cases of suspected microcephaly following a Zika outbreak that began to plague the nation in May.

Kenya’s Olympic committee sought to clarify Keino’s comments, suggesting his quote may have been taken out of context. Another member of the committee said it was too early to determine the severity of the outbreak and added that the games’ organizers were “on top of things,” according to the BBC. Kenya boasts some of the world’s top middle and long-distance runners, and the nation’s absence at the games would surely be felt.

Brazilian authorities insist there will be no risk to athletes and spectators, except pregnant women, when the games take place in August. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s chief of staff, Jacques Wagner, has urged pregnant women to cancel plans to travel to Brazil for the games.

“The risk, which I would say is serious, is for pregnant women. It is clearly not advisable for you to travel to the Games because you don’t want to take that risk,” Wagner said, according to Al Jazeera.

The International Olympic Committee has said it is in “close contact with organizers and that Olympic venues will be inspected daily in the lead-up to and during the Games.

The United States OIympic Committee has told American sports federations that atheltes concerned about the Zika virus should consider not going to the Games in Rio, the Guardian reports.

Last week, the World Health Organization declared the virus “a public health emergency of international concern” and on Monday, President Obama announced that he will ask Congress for 1.8 billion in emergency funding to fight the spread of the virus in the U.S. and abroad.

Health officials also confirmed last week that the first case of Zika virus had been contracted in the United States. The unidentified patient was infected after having sexual contact with someone who had returned with the virus from Venezuela.