Australian Leishman withdraws from Rio citing Zika

Thu May 5, 2016 2:54am EDT
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SYDNEY (Reuters) - Golfer Marc Leishman said on Thursday he has withdrawn his candidacy for the Rio Olympics, citing the Zika virus and health concerns for his wife, becoming the first Australian athlete to withdraw over the mosquito-borne virus.

Leishman, Australia's number three golfer, was first in the race to qualify for Rio alongside compatriot and world number one Jason Day after former U.S. Masters champion Adam Scott ruled himself out of the tournament last month.

The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) confirmed world number 35 Leishman had become the first prospective Australian Olympian to withdraw from Rio over the Zika virus. There is a strong scientific consensus that Zika can cause microcephaly in newborn babies as well as Guillain-Barre syndrome in adults.

Leishman's wife Audrey suffered toxic shock syndrome, a potentially fatal illness caused by bacterial infection, in April last year and was still recovering, the 32-year-old golfer said in a statement released on Wednesday U.S.-time.

"Since then Audrey has been prone to infection and is far removed from 100 per cent recovery of her immune system," said Leishman, a title-winner on the U.S. PGA Tour.

"We have consulted with Audrey's physician and due to her ongoing recovery from toxic shock and potential risks associated with the transmission of the Zika virus, it was a difficult yet easy decision not to participate," he said.

Zika has been linked with the birth defect microcephaly that has been sweeping through South and Central America and the Caribbean and making its way north to the United States.

The connection between Zika and microcephaly came to light last fall in Brazil, which has now confirmed more than 1,100 cases of microcephaly that it considers to be related to Zika infections in the mothers.

The AOC said it respected Leishman's decision.   Continued...

Marc Leishman of Australia hits his tee shot on the second hole during first round play in the 2013 Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, April 11, 2013.   REUTERS/Brian Snyder