There has been a rampant outbreak of the Zika virus in warmer climates, including Brazil, over the past few months. The disease is mosquito borne, and passed to humans when they are bitten. Even though the majority of the people who contract the virus are asymptomatic, athletes and spectators are being warned that there are serious health risks to unborn babies. If infection occurs in the mother while pregnant, there is the possibility of the child being born with an abnormally small head and incomplete brain development.
WHO (The World Health Organization) has declared this outbreak a global emergency and have recommended that athletes, and anybody else attending the Olympics in Rio, take precautionary methods. This means wearing mosquito repellent, using condoms or abstaining from sex completely while in Brazil and for eight weeks after returning home, and wearing cool clothing that covers most of the body.
The Brazilian organisers have given Olympic teams the option of having a mosquito screen in the athletes’ rooms. These would need to be paid for by each country requiring them. The Brazilian team has already put in their request, as well as suggested that their main sponsor, Nike, provide more long-sleeved apparel. The rooms that the athletes will be staying in are also air conditioned to prevent mosquitos from accessing the interiors. Spectators are advised to book accommodation with ac themselves wherever possible.
Other countries are also doing their best to protect their athletes. The British Olympic Association has been meeting with specialists from the London School of Tropical Medicine to find strategies that will lessen the chance of being bitten and acquiring the virus. Australia has taken a common sense approach to keeping their team safe. All the athletes are being supplied with condoms that have shown ‘near complete’ defence against the Zika virus in laboratory studies. These dual protection condoms have a physical barrier as well as an anti-viral lubricant. The Olympic team has also signed a contract with a repellent supplier to ensure an adequate amount for the duration of the games.
Most athletes have accepted that the bug bites and possibility of being affected with Zika are just a disadvantage associated with the host country, but others have taken their safety concern into their own hands. Greg Rutherford, the United Kingdom long jump champion, has every intention of going to defend his title but will be freezing his sperm before he attends. His partner will also remain in the UK, in order to ensure the health of any children they have afterwards.
Other athletes have pulled out of the games this year altogether, feeling that their health is more important than their performance. Australian golfer, Marc Leishman, and American cyclist, Tejay van Garderen, whose wife is pregnant, are among these. The Olympic Games themselves will continue as planned, however, and the competition will more than likely be no less fierce than it always has been.