The deadly Zika virus that has ravaged Brazil has led to a warning from a Canadian health expert that the 2016 Rio Olympics could lead to a public health disaster. The disease, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, has ravaged Brazil and caused thousands of birth defects, abnormalities and deaths. According to an article written for the Harvard Public Health Review, by University of Ottawa professor Amir Attaran the threat of Zika infection from just a few Olympic visitors could have catastrophic results and spread the disease to various global regions. Attaran goes so far to say the Olympic Games should be moved, postponed or canceled over the Zika threat and lists four main reasons.
- “Rio de Janeiro’s suspected Zika cases are the highest of any state in Brazil (26,000), and its Zika incidence rate is the fourth worst (157 per 100,000). Or in other words: according to the Brazil’s official data, Rio is not on the fringes of the outbreak, but inside its heart.”
- “The Zika strain that recently entered Brazil is clearly new, different, and vastly more dangerous than ‘old’ Zika.”
- The result of 500,000 foreigners entering Rio and at risk for infection would speed up the global spread of the Zika virus. This is not only through mosquito-borne infection but also through sexual activity. Rio has an infamous sex trade industry.
- Attaran states that the games will definitely speed up the spread of the disease at a rapid pace. This will outdistance the time public health officials will have to study and develop prevention methods to combat the Zika virus.
The International Olympic Committee, however, is not in agreement with Attaran. Dr. Richard Budgett, the IOC’s medical director said:
“The clear statements from WHO that there should be no restrictions on travel and trade means there is no justification for canceling or delaying or postponing or moving the Rio Games. The IOC will continue to monitor the situation very closely and work with the WHO, and we’re confident as we’ve been advised by the experts that the situation will improve over the next three months.”
In the meantime, concern grows as the virus continues to spread to other countries, including the United States.