The WHO doesn’t want to postpone the Olympics because of Zika — here’s the reason why

Athletes attend a training session at 2016 Rio Olympics Games' Canoe Slalom Circuit, part of X-Park at Deodoro Sports Complex as Brazilian Army soldiers take part in a simulation of decontamination of multiple victims during a a training against Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear attacks ahead the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, March 11, 2016. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes/File PhotoAthletes attend a training session at the 2016 Rio Olympics Games’ Canoe Slalom Circuit as Brazilian army soldiers take part in a simulation of decontamination of multiple victims during training in Rio de Janeiro.Thomson Reuters

The World Health Organization isn’t in favor of canceling or postponing the 2016 Olympics.

In a new statement released on Tuesday, the organization said that “there is a very low risk of further international spread of Zika virus” because of the games, but women who are pregnant are advised not to attend the games or travel to areas with ongoing Zika transmission.

Here’s the WHO’s rationale (emphasis added):

The Committee concluded that there is a very low risk of further international spread of Zika virus as a result of the Olympic and Paralympic Games as Brazil will be hosting the Games during the Brazilian winter when the intensity of autochthonous transmission of arboviruses, such dengue and Zika viruses, will be minimal and is intensifying vector-control measures in and around the venues for the Games which should further reduce the risk of transmission.

Essentially, because it will be the winter in Brazil, there won’t be as much local transmission of Zika and other viruses, including dengue by mosquitoes. So, the WHO noted, it shouldn’t be much of a problem as long as there are good prevention measures in place.

Zika, which is transmitted mainly by mosquitoes, has been spreading around the Americas over the last year. Once infected with Zika, only about 20% of people ever show symptoms, which most commonly include fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. There is no vaccine or treatment available for the virus.

One reason Zika is troubling is because it is a cause of birth defects, including microcephaly – a condition where the baby’s head is abnormally small – in babies whose mothers have had Zika. The virus has also been linked to a neurological condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome.

The WHO recommended that pregnant women should not travel to areas with Zika transmission, and, since the virus can be sexually transmitted, refrain from having sex with their partners who travel to areas with Zika. For the most part, the best way to avoid coming in contact with the mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus is to wear long sleeves and pants and use repellent and mosquito nets.

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