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Rio Olympics: travelers have little risk of infection by Zika

Updated on July 27, 2016

(At 10 days of the Games, Researchers published a study is reassuring to Health Risks associated with the virus.)

Those visiting in August at Rio Olympics games have a negligible risk of being contaminated by Zika virus and, if infected, they should not spread the epidemic in the world, according to a study published Monday.

The work, reported in the American medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine, confirm the conclusions of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US health authorities. The latter had rejected a call by over 200 scientists to cancel or postpone the games.

Questioned in June by Le Figaro, French experts had supported that decision, arguing in particular that international sporting competitions are canceled in case of flu, while it made many more victims than Zika.

In the worst scenarios, from 6 to 80 travelers among the thousands who will make the trip to Rio for the Olympics-2016 - athletes, spectators, street vendors, journalists - will be infected during their stay there. And since the virus disappears from the body in about 10 days, 3 to 37 of them will bring the Zika in their country of origin, the researchers said. "It is important to understand the low level of risk presented by the Olympics among many other factors that contribute to the international spread of Zika" said Joseph Lewnard researcher of Public Health Faculty of the University of Yale.

"Concerns greatly exaggerated"

The study is based on a mathematical model including consideration of recent local transmission in Rio, seasonal weather or passenger flows. It is currently winter in the southern hemisphere, so the conditions are much less prone to mosquitoes, the main vectors of the virus can also be transmitted through sexual intercourse. Moreover, more than half of the visitors come from high-income countries where the risk of spreading is very low, say the scientists. About 30% come from Latin America, where the return of some infected people should not make any difference because the virus is already well established.

"This study provides data that, combined with others from Brazilian scientists show that these concerns (spreading, Ed) are greatly exaggerated," says Dr. Albert Ko, professor of epidemiology at Yale University. According to the US Centers Control and Disease Prevention (CDC), the 350,000 to 500,000 visitors expected in Brazil for the Olympic Games (5-21 August) and Paralympics (September 7-18) account for less than 1% of all international travelers to areas affected by Zika worldwide.

Zika being linked to serious birth defects, including fetal microcephaly, there is not recommended for pregnant women to travel to risk areas if they can avoid displacement. In adults, the virus can cause in rare cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is sometimes accompanied by temporary paralysis. But for most, the infection causes mild symptoms that often go unnoticed.

Before the epidemic, several athletes have given up going to Rio, including many golfers as Australians Jason Day and Marc Leishman, or the Briton Rory McIlroy and Fijian Vijay Singh.

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