WHO backs Rio Olympics despite Zika, sees low risk of spread

Athletes and fans should travel to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro as planned despite the Zika outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday, countering calls for delaying or relocating the Summer Games.

The international group of experts on WHO's Zika Emergency Committee discussed the risk of the Rio Games on Tuesday and acknowledged that mass gatherings can amplify outbreaks and can spread diseases around the world.

However, in the case of Brazil, the committee considered that the sports event will take place in winter when transmission by mosquitoes decreases, and that authorities are actively fighting the insects in and around the sports venues.

"The committee concluded that there is a very low risk of further international spread of Zika virus as a result of the Olympic and Paralympic Games ... " the experts said.

The recommendation countered an appeal by some 200 health experts who said in May that the games should be postponed or relocated because the masses attending it could carry Zika to additional countries.

Currently, 60 countries, including many Latin American countries, report transmission of Zika.

"Thirty per cent of international travel today is in and out of Zika-affected areas of the world," said Bruce Aylward, WHO's top official for health emergencies.

"And when you look at the proportion of that travel that will be affected by the Olympics, [it is] very, very, very marginal," he said.

Zika, which is spread by mosquitoes and through sexual contact, only causes flu symptoms in most cases.

However, WHO declared the outbreak in Latin American countries a global health emergency in February because the fast-spreading disease was also found to cause serious neurological disorders in unborn babies and adults.

Mosquito control efforts were "found to be appropriate at all [Olympic] sites," said David Heymann, who leads WHO's Zika Emergency Committee.

At the same time, the committee said Brazil should continue to step up its fight against the insects and should do a better job at informing the public about these measures.

In addition, Brazil should "ensure the availability of sufficient insect repellent and condoms for athletes and visitors."

The number of Zika infections in Brazil has dropped sharply in recent months, the country's health minister said Friday.

Last update: Wed, 15/06/2016 - 10:30
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