Olympics 2016: How Real the Zika Threat Is?
After the dots were connected in Brazil this year, linking Zika to severe birth defects and other conditions, many have started to think of the 2016 Summer Olympics. The event will attract hundreds of thousands to Rio de Janeiro, in an area where the virus is present. Athletes, and tourists are fearing for their health before the event. Scientists have tried a vaccine already – but only on mice. The human trials are still far away, and we still have to wait for the vaccine to become available for humans.
Olympics participants are concerned
A number of athletes have expressed their concerns about being infected by the virus. Several world-class athletes, like world #1 golfer Jason Day, along with Rory McIlroy, US cyclist Tejay van Garderen, and basketball star Stephen Curry, have already withdrawn from the event. Others, like WTA #5 tennis player Simona Halep, UK heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis-Hill, and long jumper Greg Rutherford have also expressed their concerns about being infected. Rutherford hasn’t withdrawn but had his sperm frozen just to be sure.
What do Rio authorities say?
Sidney Levy, CEO of the Rio Organizing Committee, considers security, not Zika, the biggest concert for this year’s Summer Olympics. Preventing crime and terrorism is his #1 priority, with “lone wolf” attackers being his biggest fear.
“If I have to write on a piece of paper my top 10 worries today, Zika wouldn’t be there,” Levy told the press. “I’m not saying it’s not a public health issue. It is a public health issue. But we are going into the winter months in Rio and if you see every statistic of last year’s mosquitos’ proliferation in the summer and in the winter, it goes very high up in February and reaches the peak, which is the height of the summer. It starts going down, down, down. Right now it’s almost zero.”
Should the Olympics be postponed?
In a piece published in the Harvard Public Health Review, professor Amir Attaran surely considers that it should.
Simply put, Zika infection is more dangerous, and Brazil’s outbreak more extensive, than scientists reckoned a short time ago. Which leads to a bitter truth: the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games must be postponed, moved, or both, as a precautionary concession.
He cites several reasons why the authorities should postpone the games:
- Rio de Janeiro is more affected by Zika than expected
- the Zika strain to have entered Brazil is a new one, more dangerous than any previously studied variant
- the Olympics will provide the virus with the perfect opportunity to spread globally
- by spreading the virus globally, the Olympics “steal away the very thing – time – that scientists and public health professionals need to build […] defenses”
There is still more than a month until the opening ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. It remains to be seen if a small virus will be able to postpone it.