(Reuters) - The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) on Friday announced the formation of a medical advisory group to protect U.S. athletes and staff against infectious diseases, including the Zika virus, at this year’s Rio Games.
“The health and safety of our athletes, and our entire delegation, is our top priority,” USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said in a statement.
“I’m grateful to the diverse group of medical experts that have agreed to provide Team USA with the information and resources necessary to stay healthy and compete successfully.”
A growing number of international athletes in recent weeks have expressed concern about Zika, a virus that has been linked in Brazil to more than 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly.
Much remains unknown about Zika, including whether the virus actually causes microcephaly in babies, a condition defined by unusually small heads that can result in developmental problems.
Brazil said it has confirmed more than 640 cases of microcephaly, and considers most of them to be related to Zika infections in the mothers. Brazil is investigating more than 4,200 additional suspected cases of microcephaly.
The Infectious Disease Advisory Group will be chaired by Dr. Carrie L. Byington from the University of Utah Health Care, who will be joined by Dr. Randy Taplitz of the University of California, San Diego, and Capt. Martin S. Cetron of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Besides establishing best practices for Team USA, the advisory group will help the USOC develop educational material for athletes and staff, monitor and share updated scientific literature and help support care should an individual become ill.
“All three doctors are world-class physicians and experts in the field of infectious disease,” said USOC Managing Director of Sports Medicine Dr. Bill Moreau.
Moreau said having access to the “outside expertise represented by this advisory group” beyond their in-house medical staff was another way to ensure U.S. athletes and staff have what they need to be well and compete at a high level.
The doctors in the advisory group, who are participating on a volunteer basis, each has experience with the management of infectious disease in patient populations that frequently travel internationally.
Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Nick Mulvenney