The massive onset of the Zika virus, which the World Health Organization recently declared a global health emergency, may lead to the first cancellation of the Olympic Games since 1944.
Zika has a short cycle, lasting less than a week, and symptoms include joint pain, fever, rash and conjunctivitis (red eyes). Most people who contract Zika have no idea they have it, and we still don’t know all the effects, which WHO official Bruce Aylward says makes the virus “much more insidious, cunning and evil” than Ebola. Additionally, women who are or may be pregnant are at a greater risk because the virus is linked to the rare birth defect microcephaly, which causes head and brain abnormalities. Zika has also been linked to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes paralysis.
More than 1.5 million Brazilians have been infected since early 2015, and Brazil recorded more than three times the annual average rate for cases of microcephaly between October and February. On February 11, Brazil noted its third Zika-related death. According to a recent health bulletin, there are 31,555 cases of Zika in Colombia, and 5,013 of those infected are pregnant women. Zika isn’t just in South America—the virus has spread up Central America to Mexico and has also been detected in the Caribbean, Pacific Islands and Cape Verde. Additionally, there have been more than 50 cases of Americans infected abroad.
At the moment, there is no vaccine for Zika. Over the weekend, more than 200,000 soldiers were deployed across Brazil to combat the virus, spreading information and precautions to the public. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have labeled Zika a Level 1 threat. The CDC urges pregnant women to avoid infected areas altogether, and travelers should take precautions to avoid bug bites such as wearing long sleeves and applying an insect repellent that contains at least 20% DEET. It might also help to consult travel insurance policies. Although it’s mainly associated with the Aedes mosqiuto, Zika can also be transmitted sexually, so abstain or use a condom.
While Olympic officials say this summer’s ceremonies are still on, a number of athletes have voiced their fears. The potential loss in Olympic revenue could cripple Brazil’s economy even further. The Olympic Games are scheduled to run from August 5 to 21 in Rio de Janiero.