Olympics will come and go but Zika is here to stay, scientists say

Wed Jun 29, 2016 5:16pm EDT
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By Paulo Prada

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Battered by a presidential impeachment and the worst recession since the Great Depression, Brazil is getting a rare bit of relief as Rio de Janeiro prepares to host the Olympics: declining numbers of Zika infections.

Since the start of the Zika outbreak, which wreaked havoc across Brazil's northeast earlier this year, many physicians and would-be visitors have worried the Games could be a catalyst to spread the virus internationally.

Some athletes, including the world's top-ranked golfer, have said they will stay home to avoid infection because of concerns over health complications caused by Zika, notably microcephaly, a birth defect among babies of pregnant mothers infected by the virus.

Recently, however, cooler-than-normal temperatures during the southern hemisphere winter, coupled with efforts to eliminate breeding grounds for the mosquitoes that spread Zika, have cut infections by about 90 percent from a February peak, when more than 16,000 cases were reported in one week.

In Rio, an ebbing of Zika fears is reassuring authorities just over a month before the Olympics start on Aug. 5.

"Rio is not the Zika nightmare that people worried about," says Pedro Vansconelos, director of the Evandro Chagas Institute, a Brazilian research facility, and a member of the World Health Organization's emergency committee for Zika.

Hot, humid weather, which fosters mosquito reproduction, helped Zika spread rapidly from Brazil to more than 60 countries and territories.

A hot summer in Rio at the start of the year led to a spike in other mosquito-borne illnesses, such as dengue and Chikungunya. But the local outbreak of Zika was not as severe or as widespread as in the northeast, confounding scientists.   Continued...

A worker from a public cleaning company wears a T-shirt that reads "Out Zika" is pictured before the inauguration ceremony of the common areas and the Live Site at the 2016 Rio Olympics park in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 11, 2016.  REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes