Less than nine months away from the Opening Ceremony of the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared that the Zika virus in Latin American poses a “global public health emergency of international concern.” Spread by bites from the Aedos mosquito and considered as devastating to humans as Ebola, there is currently no vaccine or medication to prevent the disease. WHO has already cautioned that Zika is likely to “spread explosively,” creating widespread concern among the approximately 10,5000 athletes anticipated to partake in the Rio Games as well as the nearly half-million visitors who plan to trek to the beautiful South American city.
Athletes and spectators who are pregnant are advised to take the greatest number of safety precautions, including postponing or cancelling all planned trips to South America and Mexico. The virus is especially perilous for fetuses and causes babies to be born with the devastating birth defect microcephaly, a neurological disorder that results in babies being born with abnormally small and underdeveloped brains which causes serious, and sometimes deadly, developmental delays.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) sent out a note to each national Olympic committee advising all athletes to take various precautions to stay healthy during the Games, including liberally and frequently applying mosquito repellent, avoiding going to Brazilian beaches, and staying in doors as much as possible. The Games’ organizers have also begun taking extra precautions to safeguard athletes and spectators in and around the venues, including looking for any stagnant water that may be a breeding ground for mosquitos.
Fortunately for all, the Games are set to start on August 5th, which is the start of Brazil’s winter when it is drier, cooler, and the mosquito population is significantly smaller. Nevertheless, in the interim WHO has expedited research and aid to find a vaccine although it is not expected to be ready by August.
Loren Shokes is an Entertainment and Sports Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current second year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2017).