Ireland’s Olympians have been advised to avoid sex or to use contraception for a period before, during, and after the games in Brazil this summer to minimise the risks linked to the zika virus, writes Brendan O’Brien.
Scientists in Rio de Janeiro have warned that the mosquito-borne virus may be even more dangerous than first thought, prompting the Olympic Council of Ireland to adopt a safety-first approach.
Symptoms, including fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis, are usually mild and have been known to last up to 11 days. Deaths associated with the disease are extremely rare.
However, an infection during pregnancy can result in microcephaly, a serious birth defect, as well as other issues. In February, the World Health Organisation said the growing number of brain-damaged babies in the country constituted a global health epidemic.
Olympic Council of Ireland medical officer Rod McLoughlin told the Irish Examiner that the organisation is adhering to a safety-first approach, even if the risk factor for athletes and other visitors is low.
“The advice at the moment is that if you are in Rio and you come home without a symptom — the trouble is that you can develop the symptoms when you are at home — you use condoms for eight weeks,” he said.
“So if you had symptoms consistent with Zika then you would use condoms for six months.”
The council has been liaising with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the HSE while following diligently the latest soundings to emerge from the Centres for Disease Prevention and Control in the US and the World Health Organisation.
All Irish athletes who have qualified for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, as well as the various companies enabling their participation, have been updated with the latest information and guidelines and will continue to be notified as understanding of the virus continues to evolve.
Dr McLoughlin said the risk factor for Irish athletes and others travelling to Brazil was “negligible” as long as basic health guidelines, which include the wearing of long-sleeved garments and mosquito repellent, are followed.
“Just to put it in perspective, 80% of people who get Zika don’t even know they ever had it,” he said. “Twenty per cent get an illness that lasts two to seven days. There is some evidence that it might be a bit longer, I think up to 11 days is the longest recorded.”
Dr McLoughlin said there have been six or seven cases worldwide of the Zika virus being transmitted sexually, which means that the most effective means for those visiting Brazil to avoid being infected is through avoiding contact with the mosquitos.
Avoiding stagnant water and sleeping in tented or air-conditioned beds and rooms will play a large role in that, and Dr McLoughlin is confident that the virus will not prove to be a serious issue for the team.
This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner. .