Zika Virus – are Aussie athletes at risk in Rio 2016? Chief Medical Officer, Australian Paralympic Team
The Zika virus, transmitted by mosquitoes, was first identified in Africa and has been present in Brazil for a number of years, but there has been a recent significant increase in the number of infections during 2015, prompting the involvement of the World Health Organisation, where it is now listed as their major priority.
Most people, following a mosquito bite and infection, will not develop any symptoms at all. However, approximately 20% do experience flu-like symptoms, which include fevers, headache, muscle aches and pains and rash. These symptoms will resolve over a few days.
In early pregnancy, there is potential concern about a Zika infection impacting on development of the baby’s neural system, leading to abnormalities such as microcephaly. It is thought that these risks only relate to being pregnant at the time of actual infection.
Our understanding of the virus is continually evolving and Zika is attracting a lot of attention at present. However Yellow Fever, Dengue Fever and gastroenteritis are still much more serious medical conditions facing Aussie athletes, friends and family who are visiting Rio.
Vaccines are available against a number of these conditions, but there is no vaccine available to prevent Zika. Simple measures to avoid and limit mosquito bites have been recommended by the Australian Olympic and Paralympic Committees, ensuring our athletes are at their best to perform in Rio.