Do we need to worry about Zika virus in the 2016 Olympic Games?

Olympic Games & Zika Virus

A recent Editorial in the Lancet Infectious Diseases suggests that Zika virus will not impact the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, because most of the Zika cases are far away from Rio.

However, this view is questioned by Dr. Amir Attaran, an expert in public health from the University of Ottawa. He suggests that Zika virus may not only affect game visitors, but also threaten global health.

First, Olympic games attract people all over the world. If some of them get infected and return home, they can cause local Zika viral transmission, especially in tropical countries.

Second, Asia and Africa have almost avoided the post-2013 neurotrophic strains of the Zika virus that harms Brazil. If the newly evolved virus types are introduced to some places with weak health systems, the outcome can be terrible.

Third, a very small number of travelers can cause the transmission of Zika virus, if they return to the right setting for the disease. For example, Brazil’s outbreak of Zika is hypothesized to begin with just 1 traveler from French Polynesia to the Americans.

Fourth, WHO has suggested visitors to carry on with useful things like mosquito repellent and condoms, but it is unknown if this strategy can 100% protect the travelers.

In addition, although the cool winter weather in Rio can help suppress Zika mosquitoes, climatologists predict that this year the winter may be warmer (70% possibility).

Fifth, vulnerable population, such as children, will be harmed seriously if they are affected. Zika virus transmission is a high impact risk, and it should not be ignored even the odds are low.

The author also discussed alternatives (e.g., delaying or moving the Olympic Games) and health equity. While rich people can travel freely and with informed consent about Zika virus, poorer people who do not travel to Rio also have to take the risk.

Citations: Attaran A. (in press). Zika virus and the 2016 Olympic Games. The Lancet Infectious Diseases, in Press, corrected Proof, available online 23 July 2016. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(16)30230-4
The Lancet Infectious Diseases. Zika virus at the games: is it safe? Lancet Infectious Diseases 2016; 16: 619. doi:
Figure legend: This image is for illustrative purposes only.