Zika worries Olympic committee, Brazil sees dip in travel

Tue Feb 2, 2016 11:54am EST
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By Pedro Fonseca

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - The Rio 2016 organizing committee is worried about the rapid spread of the Zika virus in Brazil, but said on Tuesday it has not seen evidence of people canceling travel to the Olympics in August.

"Tickets have not been returned nor trips canceled," Rio 2016's communications director, Mario Andrada, told reporters.

The Brazilian government, however, is recommending that pregnant women stay away because the mosquito-borne virus has been linked to birth defects in thousands of newborns in Brazil, which could lead to fewer visitors for the Games in Rio de Janeiro.

President Dilma Rousseff's top aide said the Zika outbreak that has rapidly spread through the Americas is expected to cause a dip in tourism to countries where the virus is present.

"The risk is serious for pregnant women. For them (travel) is evidently not recommended," Rousseff's chief of staff, Jaques Wagner, told reporters on Monday. He said the risk to other visitors, especially athletes, is zero.

The World Health Organization on Monday declared the Zika virus an international health emergency that could infect as many as 4 million people in the Americas.

The virus has raised questions worldwide about whether pregnant women should avoid infected countries. Expectant mothers in the early months of gestation are most at risk of infection with Zika, which is thought to slow the growth of the brain of the fetus at a crucial stage of development.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said on Monday that delaying travel was something pregnant women "can consider" but added that if they needed to travel, they should take protective measures by covering up and using mosquito repellent.   Continued...

The logos of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and Rio 2016 Paralympic Games are pictured next to a message on a screen that reads "Message about Zika" during a media briefing in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, February 2, 2016.  REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes