The combination of the Zika virus and the Olympic Games could lead to a global health disaster.
In fact, the danger of a Zika pandemic is now so great that a leading expert in epidemiology believes the Olympics should be cancelled.
“Simply put, Zika infection is more dangerous, and Brazil’s outbreak more extensive, than scientists reckoned a short time ago,” Dr. Amir Attaran wrote in The Harvard Public Health Review. “Which leads to a bitter truth: the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games must be postponed, moved, or both, as a precautionary concession.”
Zika is spreading so fast in Brazil that women have been warned not to get pregnant. It is suspected to be the cause of an epidemic of a rare condition called microcephaly, which can cause babies to be born with small heads and severe brain damage. But it is thought Zika also can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome or GBS, a rare disorder that can cause complete paralysis, for which there is no known treatment in adults and children.
The 31st Olympic Games are scheduled to begin Aug. 5 in Rio De Janeiro.
“All it takes is one infected traveler: indeed, phylogenetic and molecular clock analyses establish that Brazil’s cataclysmic outbreak stems from a single viral introduction event likely between May and December 2013,” Attaran wrote. “A few viral introductions of that kind, in a few countries, or maybe continents, would make a full-blown global health disaster.”
Attaran is a professor at the school of epidemiology at the University of Ottawa, and believes that Zika is a threat to adults as well as infants.
“Clinical studies are also mounting that Zika infection is associated not just with pediatric microcephaly and brain damage, but also adult conditions such as Guillain-Barré syndrome and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which are debilitating and sometimes fatal,” Attaran wrote.
Attaran says there are five reasons why the Olympics should be cancelled:
1. “First, Rio de Janeiro is more affected by Zika than anyone expected, rendering earlier assumptions of safety obsolete,” Attaran warned. “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.”
2. “Second, although Zika virus was discovered nearly seventy years ago, the viral strain that recently entered Brazil is clearly new, different, and vastly more dangerous than ‘old’ Zika.”
3. “Third, while Brazil’s Zika inevitably will spread globally — given enough time, viruses always do — it helps nobody to speed that up. In particular, it cannot possibly help when an estimated 500,000 foreign tourists flock into Rio for the Games, potentially becoming infected, and returning to their homes where both local Aedes mosquitoes and sexual transmission can establish new outbreaks.”
4. “By spreading the virus faster and farther, the Games steal away the very thing – time – that scientists and public health professionals need to build such defenses.”
5. “Sports fans who are wealthy enough to visit Rio’s Games choose Zika’s risks for themselves; but when some of them return home infected, their fellow citizens bear the risk too—meaning that the upside is for the elite, but the downside is for the masses.”
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