Rio’s Olympics could be under threat as female spectators and even athletes are warned to think long and hard about their babies’ futures before risking a trip to Brazil.
Women of childbearing age are being told to strongly consider the risks and educate themselves on the dangers of Zika virus before travelling to the country, where more than 4,000 babies have been born with unusually small heads over the last 12 months.
Meanwhile, four airlines have begun offering refunds to pregnant women travelling to any country affected by the mosquito-borne disease, which is being linked to Brazil’s high number of cases of microcephaly, which is also associated with incomplete brain development.
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The Brazilian government is trying to get the outbreak of the Zika virus under control ahead of the Games
Women of child bearing age are being warned to consider trips to Brazil ‘carefully’ ahead of the Olympic Games this August. Pictured: Geovane Silva holds his son Gustavo Henrique, who has microcephaly – one of more than 4,000 babies to be born with the condition in the last 12 months
The condition, which cause babies to have unusually small heads, is being linked to the Zika virus
The Brazilian government has vowed to do everything in its power to stop the spread of the mosquito-borne disease, including sending out municipal workers with insecticide (pictured) to kill off the insects
The offers of refunds and dire warnings will put added pressure on a country which has already been struggling under the pressure of preparing for the upcoming Games – especially considering the mosquito thrives in puddles, nooks and crannies common in Rio.
It has led Marcelo Castro, Brazil’s health minister, to admit this week: ‘We are losing the battle in a big way.’
But organisers are keen to stress the 2016 Games are being held during Brazil’s winter – and will be doing everything in their power to keep every one of the hundreds of thousands visitors expected to arrive in Rio de Janiero in August.
With six months to go until opening ceremony, the government has promised to attack mosquito breeding sites and protect visitors from the virus, from which there is no known prevention method aside from avoiding mosquito bites.
WHO’s deputy chief Bruce Aylward told reporters that it was ‘very, very unlikely’ the UN agency would issue warnings against travel to Brazil, including for the Games, while International Olympic Committee head Thomas Bach said it will ‘do everything’ in its power to keep everyone safe from the virus.
However, Australian Olympic Committee has become the first to openly admit to concerns over the virus.
The team’s medical director David Hughes told news.com.au: ‘All females of child-bearing age need to be aware of the specific risks of microcephaly in newborns, should the mother become infected during pregnancy.
‘Following the recently updated DFAT guidelines, any team members who are pregnant at the time of the Games need to consider the risks very carefully before deciding whether to proceed with travel to Brazil.’
Whether more teams will follow in speaking out about the potential threat to pregnant women and their unborn children is yet to be seen.
The Australian Olympic team is advising its athletes to educate themselves before deciding to travel to Rio in August, while airlines are offering refunds on tickets to affected countries. Pictured: Gleyse Kelly da Silva holds her daughter Maria Giovanna as she sleeps in their house in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil
Zika virus is common in parts of Africa and South East Asia, but since 2007 there have been various outbreaks outside of the disease’s comfort zone. It spread to South America in 2014, before reaching Mexico and the Caribbean last year. The first US case was reported in Texas at the start of January
Bach said the IOC is in ‘close cooperation’ with Brazilian authorities and the World Health Organization, and he promised to have consultations with national Olympic committees on safety guidelines concerning the Zika outbreak by late Friday.
Decisions over whether or not to attend the Games will be being made as the the World Health Organisation warned the disease had gone from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions, admitting up to four million people could be infected.
With concern over travel to Latin America spreading, two airlines in the region announced refund offers to pregnant women booked for travel.
Chilean-Brazilian airline Latam, the region’s biggest, will refund or rebook expectant mothers with tickets to any of 22 countries or territories with outbreaks of the mosquito-borne virus, while Chilean company Sky will refund pregnant women with tickets to Brazil.
US carriers Delta and American Airlines have made similar offers.
Meanwhile, France has urged women not to travel to French overseas territories in South America and the Caribbean.