On the heels of the World Health Organization (WHO) having declared a public health state of emergency due to the explosive spreading of the Zika virus throughout Latin America, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) has delivered a message to leaders of U.S. sport federations.
As reported by Reuters, the USOC communicated via conference call in late January that the “athletes and staff concerned for their health over the Zika virus should consider not going to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in August.”
“No one should go to Brazil if they don’t feel comfortable going,” is what President and Board Chairman of USA Fencing Donald Anthony said he heard on the call.
The Zika virus, carried via the same mosquitoes known to have spread dengue fever, has proven especially dangerous to pregnant women, as it is known to cause microcephaly in newborns. Microcephaly is blamed for causing brain damage, as well as babies being born with abnormally small heads.
At this point, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has limited its travel advisement just to pregnant women, telling them to avoid travel to places with Zika outbreaks. Those locales include Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Costa Rica and Barbados, among several other nations in the Latin American, Pacific Island and Caribbean regions.
USOC spokesman Mark Jones confirmed by email that the organization’s Chief of Sport Performance, Alan Ashley had “briefed federation leaders on the CDC’s recommendations and we will continue to ensure that athletes and officials affiliated with Team USA receive any updates from the CDC.”
Recalling the conference call, Anthony, a former Olympian, said: “One of the things that they immediately said was, especially for women that may be pregnant or even thinking of getting pregnant, that whether you are scheduled to go to Rio or no, that you shouldn’t go.”
According to Inside the Games, however, the USOC has denied it told athletes and staff concerned about the Zika virus that they should consider not attending this year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Instead, the organization reportedly said they ‘simply briefed participants before distributing guidance issued by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).’
“We are closely monitoring the situation through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and have ongoing contact with the International Olympic Committee, the organising officials in Rio, the World Health Organization and infectious disease specialists with expertise in tropical diseases, including the Zika virus,” said USOC spokesperson Patrick Sandusky.
“Additionally, we’re taking steps to ensure that our delegation and those affiliated with Team USA are aware of the CDC’s recommendations regarding travel to Brazil,” said Sandusky.
Dr. Joao Grangeiro, Medical Director for Rio, has expressed his assurances that athletes will not be affected by Zika during the Olympic Games. “Athletes should come to the Olympic Games. Athletes are not at risk. We will not have an epidemic or pandemic situation. We can’t say we won’t have any cases [during the Games], but we see this as a minimal risk,” he says.
There is no specific treatment for those infected with the Zika virus, whose symptoms include rashes, joint pain, conjunctivitis and fevers.