Top athletes from Jason Day to the Bryan brothers withdrawing from the Games have sparked concern among other athletes and travellers alike. But is the threat real?
Five days before South America debuts the Games, health officials in Brazil have assuredly announced that the risk of Zika virus infection in Rio de Janeiro is low as the cases of the virus have declined significantly in recent months, with almost no cases reported in the two weeks leading up to the Games. This is perhaps thanks to the dry and cooler weather in Rio.
From a public health standpoint, epidemiologists have projected that Zika transmissions will ebb during July to September, Rio’s winter months, however no one is absolutely certain as this will be Rio’s first winter with Zika. Plus, with an estimated half a million foreign tourists flocking Rio for the Games, a potentially imminent pandemic sprouting across various regions of the world is a possible reality. At the time of writing, Florida health officials have confirmed four cases of local Zika transmission.
When first discovered in Brazil last year, the outbreak caused waves of fear and apprehension across the globe. This mosquito-borne virus has been linked to microcephaly, a birth defect among babies of pregnant mothers infected with Zika; which is primarily transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito or through sexual intercourse. A constellation of more severe congenital defects suggestive of fetal brain disruption sequence and effects on the adult nervous system have also been reported.
Zika isn’t the only cause for concern to plausibly deter the anticipated 500,000 visitors to the Rio Olympics, crime and delays in infrastructure have thickened the brewing concerns. While scientists and public health professionals are making good progress in research, development, testing of an effective Zika vaccine, insectide, antiviral drug or a genetically-engineered mosquito, as in all health crisis, the race against time is evident.
How Can Travelers Protect Themselves?
Planned a trip to RIO 2016? Be diligent to take these precautionary steps.
Before your trip:
- Schedule a health appointment with your doctor before you depart and ask for recommended vaccines and medicines recommended for your trip to Brazil.
- Pack a travel health kit.
- Ensure that you have travel health and medical insurance.
- Monitor travel warnings and alerts.
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
During your trip:
- Follow safety and security guidelines.
- Beware of possibly contaminated foods and drinking water.
- Download CDC’s “Can I Eat This?” app to help you make safe food and water choices.
- Prevent mosquito bites and use insect repellent.
- Stay hydrated and drink plenty of bottled water.
- Reduce your risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STD), practise safe sex.
If you fall ill during your trip:
- Talk to a doctor or nurse if you feel very ill especially if you have a fever.
- Avoid contact with other people who are sick.
- If you don’t speak Portugese, see this common list of Portugese health terms and phrases.
After your trip:
- If you are unwell after the trip, see a doctor immediately and be sure to tell your doctor about your travel and if you were bitten or scratched by an animal while travelling.
- Men who have Zika symptoms should wait at least 6 months before attempting conception while women who have traveled to an area with Zika should wait at least 8 weeks after travel before trying to conceive.
- All travelers should continue to take steps to prevent mosquito bites for 3 weeks after they leave Brazil to avoid spreading the virus, even if they do not feel sick.
Zika Virus and Pregnancy
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued an Alert, Level 2 (Practise Enhanced Precautions) health warning. CDC recommends that:
- Pregnant women do not go to the Olympics.
- Men use condoms or refrain from sexual intercourse with pregnant women.
- For pregnant women or those trying to conceive, consulting your health care provider before travelling is strongly recommended and preventing mosquito bites are crucial.