WHO panel to take a call on Zika and Rio Olympics

With debate growing over the safety of holding the Olympics in Brazil amid the ongoing Zika virus outbreak, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Emergency Committee on Zika will meet in the coming weeks to evaluate the risks tied to going on with the Games in August.
WHO panel to take a call on Zika and Rio Olympics
WHO headquarters in Geneva


“The Emergency Committee meeting will consider the situation in Brazil, including the question of the Olympics,” WHO spokeswoman Nyka Alexander told Reuters in response to a query. WHO makes risk assessments of a public health issue and it would be up to the International Olympics Committee (IOC) to decide on holding the event in Rio de Janeiro, due to start on August 5, she said. 
“It is not within our mandate” to make decisions on holding the Olympic Games, Alexander said. A spokesman for Rio 2016 said they continue to follow WHO recommendations on Zika. 
Athletes will have to make their own decisions as to whether to risk Zika for the potential glory of Olympic gold. Cyclist Tejay Van Garderen this week withdrew from consideration for the US team over concerns that the virus could present risks for his pregnant wife. 
The virus can also be transmitted via unprotected sex with an infected man. It will be winter in Brazil when the Olympics begin, so the mosquitoes that carry the virus will be less abundant, WHO experts said. Top US health officials agreed with WHO experts that Zika did not pose enough of a risk to postpone or move the Olympics. 
Dr Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said travel to the Olympics would represent less than one quarter of 1 percent of all travel to Zika-affected areas, and that the risk was low except for pregnant women. It has been determined that Zika is a cause of microcephaly, a rare birth defect characterized by unusually small head size and potentially severe developmental problems. 
US Senator Jeanne Shaheen had asked WHO to examine whether the Games in Rio de Janeiro could accelerate global spread of the mosquito-borne virus. Alexander said the date for the next meeting of the WHO Emergency Committee was still being decided, but that it would be held this month.

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