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ARTICLE

Zika Threat Prompts Health Experts to Urge WHO to Move Rio 2016 Games

JUN 03, 2016 | SARAH ANWAR
In an open letter copied to the International Olympic Committee, 150 health experts from around the world urged the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Margaret Chan, MD, MPH, to either postpone or move both the Olympic and Paralympic Games, for the sake of public health.

The Situation

Brazil has been experiencing active Zika transmission since 2015. In addition, “the Brazilian strain of Zika virus harms health in ways that science has not observed before,” according to the authors of the open letter. In an attempt to protect the public from Zika virus infection, the authors urged WHO to move the Games. In support of this, the authors cited past Olympic Games which were cancelled due to threat of disease, and highlighted the recent case where Major League Baseball recently moved a two-game series from Puerto Rico, which currently has 1,072 cases of locally-acquired Zika infections, to Miami, earlier this month.

It would seem that the authors are not being alarmist. A Zika situation report released by WHO on May 26 concluded that, thus far, “there is scientific consensus that Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly and GBS [Guillain-Barré syndrome].” The Zika virus has been proven to live in semen for at least 62 days, and can be transferred from a man to a partner through sexual intercourse (both vaginal and anal). Moreover, on June 2, 2016, a letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine reported a case which confirmed that Zika infection is transmissible through oral sex with ejaculation.

In addition, WHO recently updated its interim guidance for the prevention of sexually transmitted Zika infection. Women of childbearing age are advised to postpone conception for at least 8 weeks after suspected infection, while men are advised to abstain from sexual intercourse, or practice safe sex with their pregnant partners or partners of childbearing age for up to 6 months after symptoms subside. Pregnant women should only engage in sexual intercourse with the use of a condom, or abstain from sex for the full length of the pregnancy, if she or her partner live in or are returning from a region with active Zika transmission.

Moreover, there is currently no designated therapy or vaccine for the Zika virus, and experts believe it may take up to two decades to manufacture one.

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