Infectious Diseases

Updated 15 June 2016

WHO sees 'very low risk' of Zika virus spreading at Rio Olympics

Worldwide people are expressing their concerns that athletes and fans might contract the Zika virus and return home infected, allowing it to spread to more countries.

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An expert panel at the World Health Organisation (WHO) concluded that the Zika virus has a “very low risk” of further spreading internationally owing to the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Spreading to local mosquitoes

After weeks of calls for the games which are scheduled to commence on 9 August to be cancelled or moved, an emergency committee on the Zika virus was formed. People expressed their concerns that athletes and fans might contract the tropical virus and return home infected, allowing it to spread to local mosquitoes and via sexual transmission.

In a recent meeting, WHO experts reiterated that the Zika Virus indeed is a global public health emergency. During the past year the virus spread to 60 nations and is associated with severe birth defects, notably microcephaly, a shrunken skull and brain syndrome.

(Rio de Janeiro)

David Heymann, Olympics committee chairman and professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that the risk is already low, and will be very low at the time of the games at a briefing for reporters that followed the committee’s meeting.

(David Heymann – Getty Images)

The panel confidently maintains that major games such as the FIFA World Cup have yet to lead to any outbreaks, hence their assurance that the Olympics won’t pose a threat. 

Pregnant women should stay away

Because it will be winter in Brazil at the time of the games, which is also the low point for mosquitos, suitable measures including condom distribution to visitors and the killing of mosquitos have been taken. The panel figures that there will be very little risk for travellers adding to the international spread of the virus. Heymann further added, “Transmission will be very low, particularly in Rio.”

The rate of the virus infection has started to drop quite a bit in Brazil, the WHO’s Bruce Aylward stated in the briefing, which adds to the confidence that transmission would be substantially lower during the games, especially in the equatorial venues where soccer games will be held.

Heymann warned that pregnant women should not be travelling to these areas. University of California, Los Angeles’ Karin Nielsen says that they haven’t seen a case of the Zika in Brazil for weeks. She also adds that it won’t be mosquito season in Rio during the games and that the odds of being bitten are negligible.

Read more: 

Experts ask WHO to consider moving Rio Olympics

Zika infections through sex more common than thought

Report hints Zika can spread through oral sex