The Zika Virus: what’s at stake for the 2016 Summer Olympics 

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This sample is positive for the Zika virus Source: Jarun Ontakrai//Shutterstock.com

Samantha G. Johnson

Professional athletes train their entire lives for the dream of competing in the Olympic Games. However, athletes, coaches and spectators alike are now reconsidering their attendance to this year’s Rio 2016 Summer Olympics in light of the recent Zika virus outbreak in Brazil.

Named after the Zika forest in Uganda, where it was first discovered, the virus has recently gained widespread recognition after rapidly spreading through the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, and South America. Since then, the virus—which is spread through mosquito bites—has left doctors concerned about its unpredictable transmission.

The Zika virus is transmitted by the Aedes mosquito, a species that also transmits the diseases Dengue and Chikungunya. “The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache,” explains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Cases of Microcephaly, a congenital condition in which a baby’s head is smaller than usual, are frequently being reported by mothers who were infected by the Zika virus during pregnancy. Researchers in Brazil who are examining the virus propose that there is a potential correlation between the virus and microcephaly. Currently, several health agencies are researching this possible correlation and are developing a Zika vaccine.

The CDC has given specific precautions to those who plan on traveling to Brazil or any surrounding infected regions, including the thousands of athletes and spectators who will be attending the Olympics this summer. Since there is no known treatment for the disease, the CDC urges those who have been infected to stay hydrated and well rested in order for the disease to run its course naturally.

In addition, they advise that mosquito bites must be avoided during the first week of the onset of the disease, as the virus remains highly contagious during this time and can be spread from infected human blood to other mosquitoes. Zika can also potentially be acquired through sexual intercourse; thus, safe sexual practices are advised during the incubation period.

The significance of the Summer Olympics places possible attendees in the unfortunate position of having to consider the risks associated with attending. Maria Carrillo, a Palm Beach State College student, said, “I would love to go to the Olympic games, but today, with Zika virus epidemic, I would consider it twice.”

As scientists continue to research the Zika virus, travelers must decide to visit Brazil purely at their own risk and discretion. Nonetheless, until Rio 2016 arrives, the grand question remains: how will the Zika epidemic affect the 2016 Olympics?