The Brazilian Ministry of Health estimates that there were nearly 150,000 new cases of Zika virus infection in Brazil in the first half of 2016. Those numbers have made athletes, fans and many others nervous about traveling to Rio de Janeiro for this month's Summer Olympics. Although the virus is relatively harmless to most people—three out of four of those infected are asymptomatic—it can cause severe birth defects if it strikes a pregnant woman.
But infectious disease experts say panic over Zika, which is largely transmitted by mosquitoes, is unwarranted. “For most people, and women who are not pregnant, it's going to be relatively safe to go to Rio,” says Ashish K. Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. “There are certainly standard precautions that people should be taking if they're traveling there as an athlete or as a spectator. But if people do a good job of being cautious and using insect repellents, I don't think there's any evidence that additional measures are particularly necessary or even useful.”
Similarly, the World Health Organization and the International Olympic Committee have said that the risk of getting Zika at the Olympics is relatively low. And most epidemiologists and infectious disease experts agree that there is no need to postpone the games in light of new disease-transmission models and a better understanding of mosquito activity in August (it will be lower). Of course, that has not stopped individual teams from taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of the virus among their athletes.
CANADA Screens will be installed on bedroom windows at the Canada Olympic House to keep out mosquitoes. Other Olympic teams also have the option to pay for this upgrade.
SOUTH KOREA The country's athletes will be wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts and jackets, both infused with mosquito-repellent chemicals. The “Zika-proof” uniforms will be worn during the ceremonies and training and at the Olympic Village.
U.S. Among other Zika-prevention measures, the U.S. Olympic committee will provide its athletes with unlimited bottles of OFF! insect repellent.
AUSTRALIA Condoms coated with an antiviral lubricant will be distributed to all Australian athletes to protect against sexual transmission of the virus. The condoms have been approved in Australia for HIV, herpes simplex and human papillomavirus.