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US Olympic Athletes Brought Home Gold, Not Zika

SEP 06, 2016 | BRIAN P. DUNLEAVY
American Olympic athletes returned from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro with a record medal haul—121 in all, including 46 golds.
 
More importantly, though, none of them came home with the Zika virus, at least according to the most recent reports from the US Olympic Committee (USOC).
 
Of course, in the weeks and months leading up to the Games, some public health and infectious disease experts were calling for the events to be moved due to concerns over the Zika virus and its spread, even though studies suggested there was relatively little concern. The mosquito-borne virus has plagued parts of Brazil, including Rio, since 2014, and has since been reported in the Caribbean (particularly on Puerto Rico) and, most recently, in Florida. Estimates on the exact incidence of Zika in Brazil vary, but the number is believed to be in excess of 165,000—and that was before the start of the Games.
 
But amazingly: none of them were American Olympic athletes. In fact, none of the athletes participating in the Olympics have received confirmed diagnoses of Zika, according to the World Health Organization.
 
Still, there remain ongoing concerns as athletes, personnel, spectators, and others return from the Games. Many of those infected with Zika are asymptomatic, and the virus can be spread via sexual contact. Media reports suggest that India’s athletes have been warned about “safe love-making” (ie, condom use) and may be monitored for the virus for several months.
 
Mark Jones, a spokesperson for the USOC, refused to get into specifics when contacted by Contagion, but he did confirm that the organization has programs in place to provide medical care for athletes diagnosed with Zika and to provide funding needed to cover the costs of care. Many Olympic athletes don’t generate significant income from their athletic pursuits.
 
Jones added that athletes and coaches participating in the Olympics or Paralympics for Team USA in Brazil have the option of participating in a National Institutes of Health-funded study at the University of Utah designed to assess the incidence of Zika infection in this population and identify potential risk factors. Treatment costs will be covered for study participants. Prior to the Games, the USOC formed an Infectious Disease Advisory Group, chaired by the University of Utah’s Carrie L. Byington, MD, to provide guidance on Zika for athletes and coaches representing Team USA. The Utah study plans to enroll 1,000 participants.
 
Brian P. Dunleavy is a medical writer and editor based in New York. His work has appeared in numerous healthcare-related publications. He is the former editor of Infectious Disease Special Edition.
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