The risk of contracting mosquito-borne Zika virus is a major talking point among Rio Olympic participants. Despite assurances by public health authorities in Brazil and epidemiologists around the world, several athletes have made the decision to skip the big event on the Zika fear. The Games get underway on August 5 and continue over the next fortnight but the apprehension of health risk has gained more ground. As per reports, Zika is currently incurable and can lead to stillbirths or brain-damaged newborns. Though the virus is also prevalent in many other countries, Brazil is the hardest hit with more than 1500 newly borne babies showing serious brain defects. Besides Zika, Brazil is also showing growing incidences of dengue fever; another mosquito-borne disease. The worst-hit is men’s field in Golf, a sport being projected as making its triumphant return to Olympics after 112 years. World’s top four players have already withdrawn with 14 others joining them. Zika threat has also prompted some top-bracket tennis players to join the Olympic withdrawal party.
The withdrawal of prominent male golfers from 2016 Rio Olympics is not attributable to the Zika threat alone. Many of them feel that participating in the Summer Games could rob them off far more lucrative financial earnings. The international golfing scene has a crammed 9-week schedule that includes two major championships, a World Golf Championship event, the RBC Canadian Open and the Olympics. Immediately after the Olympics, players will rush to the FedEx Cup to chase the $10 million grand prize. World no. 8 Australian Adam Scott, who once rued the absence of golf from Olympics and desired to win the gold for his country, was ironically the first golfer to skip the Games. Now Scott says golf at Rio is merely an exhibition tournament and he wants to focus more on the four major championships. However, the latest golfer to withdraw from Rio is USA’s world no.3 Jordan Spieth and he minced no words in citing Zika and other security concerns in Brazil for his withdrawal. Spieth thus completed the golf’s top four, who wouldn’t come to Rio. World no.1, Jason Dey, no.2 Dustin Johnson and no.4 Rory Mcllroy had earlier announced their withdrawals because of the Zika virus threat. Besides, 14 other golfers have also announced their intention of skipping the Olympics because of Zika virus.
Following suit, some high-profile tennis players have also announced their withdrawal from Rio Games and most have cited Zika virus as the reason. Last week, Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych was the latest to join the list, which includes top-tier players like Canadian Milos Raonic, Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov and Romanian Simona Halep. Berdych got married last year and while he and his wife have no plans on having children immediately, he still wanted no health risks. Meanwhile some tennis players, who have chosen to go to Rio, are not completely free of the apprehension on the Zika threat. Germany’s rising teenager Alexander Zvrev said he was worried about the Zika virus after he fell sick from a mosquito bite in USA. But the German thinks it is an honor to play for the country. Female stars like Romania’s Monica Niculescu, USA’s Sloane Stephens, Australia’s Samantha Stosur and Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard are all worried and they have consulted their doctors on the subject. Since none of them are going to become pregnant any time soon, their medical advisors have cleared their trip with full precautionary measures.
The 2016 Olympic Games are being organized under other threats to participants besides the Zika virus. Brazil is reeling under political unrest with law-and-order situation being pathetic. While Zika virus is prominently occupying media space, threat from dengue fever has taken the back seat. In fact dengue affects far more people in Brazil than Zika. As per a published research paper from a vaccine researcher at Johns Hopkins University, there have been 4,771 reported cases of Zika in contrast to 1,244,583 from dengue. Though the athletes and other participants have been assured of protection against mosquitoes, it is anybody’s guess as to how Olympic authorities will manage that.
Then threat also comes from a super bacteria swarming in Rio’s waterways. Last year, it was reported that swimming and sailing would take place in waters that were nearly 2 million times more hazardous than those in the Southern California beach. To add to their woes, there is another report that suggests the presence of drug-resistant bacteria that enter bay-waters from discharge by local hospitals. The water in the sailing venue of the Guanabara Bay has an oil slick and is so muddy that it turns the white boats brown on the underside. Spanish sailor Jordi Xammar informed Associated Press that he saw a lot of dead fish during a practice session.
Apart from athletes, an estimated 500,000 people will cross into Brazil for Summer Games. These people can also get exposed to various mosquito-borne diseases. The public health experts believe that the travelers returning home after Olympics will be living carriers of Zika and other viruses. While scientists in US and other nations are worried about a global catastrophe, Brazilian epidemiologists are concerned about the undue stigmatization of their country. They say that the doomsday scenarios are being painted without reality and absence of concrete evidence. They don’t deny the possibility of Zika virus but say that armchair scientists sitting thousands of miles away don’t know the pattern of mosquito breeding. With cooler weather during Olympics, mosquitoes will become dormant and the threat considerably reduced. Brazilian scientists add that many of these concerns are largely exaggerated.