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Athletes have little reason to fear Zika at the Summer Olympics

By RACHEL STERN

Published March 10, 2016

“Depending on their venue, some athletes may face greater health risks than Zika from water quality and sanitation issues.”
Jared Aldstadt, associate professor
Department of Geography

Some athletes, such as U.S. women’s soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo, already have expressed concern over attending the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics due to the Zika virus spreading in Brazil.

But Jared Aldstadt, associate professor of geography in the College of Arts and Sciences, says athletes don’t have much to fear.

“The Olympics come at a good time, weather-wise,” says Aldstadt, whose research focuses on the mosquito species that transmits Zika, dengue fever, yellow fever and chikungunya. “It will be the cooler season in Rio and temperature has a major influence on mosquito-borne transmission. It needs to be pretty warm, and consistently warm, for transmission. Even a few cool days can slow down the transmission cycle.”

Not only will the weather be cooler, but athletes will be staying in air-conditioned housing, which adds another layer of protection, Aldstadt says.

“Those are not prime places for exposure,” he says. “For the most part, athletes will be well-protected in air-conditioned places. It also appears that Brazil is stepping up vector control efforts. Depending on their venue, some athletes may face greater health risks than Zika from water quality and sanitation issues.”

However, Aldstadt says, much more information will be gathered about Zika in the next few months before the Olympics.

So far, based on the available evidence, most Zika infections result in only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, Aldstadt says. At this point, he says, the connection between Zika and microcephaly is still not well understood.

“Certainly pregnant women shouldn’t go to areas with active Zika transmission,” he says. “If microcephaly rates increase in the same way in Columbia, for instance, then we would have so much circumstantial evidence that the causal link would seem assured. We should know that soon.

“Before the Olympics, we will have much more information about Zika virus and its association with neurological disorders.”