US athletes can skip 2016 Rio Olympics if worried about Zika – report

The logos of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and Rio 2016 Paralympic Games are pictured next to a message on a screen that reads "Message about Zika" during a media briefing in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, February 2, 2016.  © Ricardo Moraes
The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) has told the country’s sport federations that potential 2016 Brazil Olympics participants should stay at home if they “feel uncomfortable” about the Zika virus threat.

The USOC held a conference call late in January to inform sport federations of the possible hazards that going to the Brazil Olympics may involve, Reuters reports citing two people who took part in the call.

According to president and chairman of the board of USA Fencing, Donald Anthony, USOC instructions suggested that those who “don't feel comfortable going” to the Rio games should not attend.

"One of the things they immediately said was, especially for women that may be pregnant or even thinking of getting pregnant, that whether you are scheduled to go to Rio or no, that you shouldn't go," Anthony recalled. "And no one should go if they feel at all as though [the] threat could impact them."

US Equestrian Federation Director of Sport Will Connell confirmed his colleague’s statement. "They said no one who has reasons to be concerned should feel obliged to go."

However, the USOC did not express any fears that huge numbers of athletes would try to avoid going to Brazil in August this year, Anthony and Connell said. The focus of the conference call was to warn pregnant women or those thinking of becoming pregnant of the main health issue that might arise, federation leaders believe.

The Zika virus is spread through mosquito bites, though a recent study suggested that it can also spread through sexual intercourse and saliva. The most common symptoms of the virus are a fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis.

Pregnant women fall into a special category of risk. If infected, their newborn children could be prone to microcephaly, a neurological disorder that results in abnormally small heads, leading to developmental issues and sometimes death. No cure for the virus exists at the moment.

READ MORE: Olympic organizers deny Games under threat due to Zika virus

The World Health Organization declared on February 1 that the Zika virus has become a global emergency. Zika outbreaks have been reported in 33 countries, most of them in the Americas.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) plans to take measures to ensure the safety of the Rio Olympics by cutting down risks of contracting Zika. The plan is to deal by with mosquitos’ breeding areas, such as stagnant pools of water, media report.

Officials believe the global virus threat will not be a problem: IOC President Thomas Bach was quoted as saying that he was "very confident" the games would take place.