Zika-free warmups suggest minimal risk at Olympics, organizers say

Tue Jun 7, 2016 6:12pm EDT
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RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - The local organizing committee for the upcoming Olympics in Rio de Janeiro said on Tuesday not a single case of Zika infection has been reported among 17,000 athletes, volunteers and staff during test events in the run-up to the games.

As concern over the outbreak grows among the 500,000 visitors expected for the Olympics, the committee's chief medical officer said cooler temperatures, which are less propitious for mosquitos, had already led to a decrease in the number of Zika infections in recent months.

U.S. health officials have concluded that Zika infections in pregnant women can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small head size that can lead to severe developmental problems in babies.

Along with preventive measures to prevent puddles and other possible mosquito breeding grounds around venues and tourist sites, authorities are asking athletes and visitors to use insect repellent and protective clothing.

"Rio de Janeiro should be a very safe place," said João Grangeiro, the medical officer.

Separately, Brazil's interim President Michel Temer said he would visit Rio next week in an effort to boost confidence about the games, which start on Aug. 5. Noting "insecurity" over Zika, Temer said he hoped "to provide a dose of confidence, or more importantly, a dose of institutional security."

The reassurances come as scientists in Brazil seek to allay fears that a visit to the country could lead to infection.

The organizers argue the lack of infections during recent test events, from gymnastics competitions to track and field, show the areas most likely to be frequented by Olympics visitors differ from the dense, dirty and muggy conditions most favorable for contagion.

Using travel statistics and contagion metrics based on dengue, an infection transmitted by the same mosquito, scientists have suggested the risk of contagion for most visitors is minimal.   Continued...

2016 Rio Olympics Chief Medical Officer Joao Grangeiro attends a briefing on Zika virus for international media in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 7, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes