U.S. health official says Zika not a reason to cancel Olympics

Thu May 26, 2016 4:19pm EDT
 
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By Bill Berkrot

(Reuters) - The widespread Zika virus outbreak in Brazil does not pose enough of a threat to warrant canceling or putting off the Olympic Games set to be held in Rio de Janeiro in August, a leading U.S. health official said on Thursday .

"There is no public health reason to cancel or delay the Olympics," Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a luncheon at The National Press Club in Washington.

A controversial paper by a Canadian professor published earlier this month in the Harvard Public Health Review called for the Games to be canceled or moved because it said they would likely speed up the spread of Zika throughout the world. Several health experts have disputed the report as lacking evidence for such a move.

"The risk to delegations going and athletes is not zero, but the risk of any travel isn't zero. The risk is not particularly high other than for pregnant women," Frieden said.

Zika infection in pregnant women has been shown to be a cause of the birth defect microcephaly and other serious brain abnormalities in babies.

The World Health Organization has also said there is strong scientific consensus that Zika can also cause Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological syndrome that causes temporary paralysis in adults.

The connection between Zika and microcephaly first came to light last fall in Brazil, which has confirmed more than 1,400 cases of microcephaly that it considers to be related to Zika infections in the mothers.

Putting the Olympics risk in perspective, Frieden said travel to the Summer Games would represent less than one quarter of one percent of all travel to Zika affected areas.   Continued...

 
Material to prevent Zika infection by mosquitoes are displayed at the 69th World Health Assembly at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse