The outbreak of the Zika virus is serious enough for the United States Olympic Committee to issue a startling message to athletes: you’re not obligated to play in August in Brazil.
The USOC told national sports federations, staff and participants to consider sitting out the 2016 Summer Olympic games in Rio de Janiero if they are worried about contracting the Zika virus, Reuters’ Daniel Bases and Joshua Schneyer reported Monday, citing two participants in a a January conference call between USOC officials and the leaders of various federations.
“Federations were told that no one should go to Brazil ‘if they don’t feel comfortable going. Bottom line,” USA Fencing president Donaldo Anthony told Bases and Schneyer.
Zika is a mosquito-borne virus, which has been reported in 33 countries. Some Zika symptoms are mild and invisible but it is suspected to be linked with microcephaly, which Reuters describes as “a birth defect marked by an abnormally small head.” No reliable vaccine exists to fight the infection.
Brazil is thought to be the hardest-hit country, and the Olympics are scheduled to run there from August 5 through 21. Brazil is working to control outbreaks and mosquitoes with less than six months remaining before the start of Latin America’s first-ever Olympics.
The World Health Organization has designated Zika an international emergency, and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has cautioned pregnant women (or those considering pregnancy) against traveling to Zika-hit regions.
The USOC is likely to heed the CDC’s advisories if it sets a Zika policy for this summer’s games. With none in place, athletes will decide for themselves if the risk of infection is worth abandoning their Olympic dreams.
Anthony praised the USOC for its approach and said no fencers have expressed major concern over Zika to him.
“I think our athletes are aware,” Anthony told Reuters. “But it has not become a mission critical issue yet. Not yet.”
Thumbnail photo via Twitter/@VOANews
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