Zika has Canadians ‘starting to sit up and take...
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Feb 13, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

Zika has Canadians ‘starting to sit up and take notice’ of mosquito-borne viruses in Brazil

Other viruses, such as dengue, might be a bigger concern to athletes in Rio

OurWindsor.Ca

To athletes, the Olympics are the chance to test themselves against the very best in the world and, hopefully, win a medal for their country.

To Dr. Robert McCormack they are something else as well.

“The Olympics are where the viruses of the world come to meet,” the Canadian Olympic Committee medical director has said.

Six months out of the Rio Games, the one virus that everyone is talking about is Zika, a mosquito-borne virus linked to birth defects. The U.S. Olympic Committee is so concerned it is hiring two infectious diseases specialists to advise athletes about the Zika outbreak in Brazil.

The COC hasn’t taken a similar step but it is speaking with experts at Health Canada, the American Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization, McCormack said.

“People have been very cooperative in trying to help us give guidance to the athletes and friends, families and support staff.”

When it comes to the health of athletes, McCormack sees bigger dangers with other mosquito-borne viruses found in Brazil, including three strains of dengue fever, chikungunya, yellow fever and malaria.

“I’m more worried about dengue than Zika given our unique situation with the athletes,” he said, noting that Olympic athletes are unlikely to be pregnant and dengue commonly results in more severe illness.

“If there’s a silver lining in this, it’s that the athletes are now really paying attention to the recommendations that we’ve been making all along to make sure you protect yourself against mosquito bites,” he said referring to repellant, long sleeves, closed windows at night and mosquito netting.

“A lot of people come from Canada and say ‘mosquitoes, whatever.’ Now they’re starting to sit up and take notice.”

Canada’s women’s sevens rugby team will fly to Sao Paulo on Sunday for a tournament with bags full of bug spray.

The team hotel is air conditioned and players may also sleep in nets. Tournament organizers are ensuring there is no standing water on the playing fields and World Rugby is allowing players to wear long-sleeve undershirts and pants during competition, Meaghan Howat, Rugby Canada’s women’s program manager said.

Only a few months ago, the biggest health concern for Rio was the water quality in the Olympic venues, but once Zika was linked to microcephaly, a birth defect marked by an abnormally small head, it jumped to the top of the list.

The information on Zika is changing almost daily and that has led to confusion, fear and “a bit of overreaction,” McCormack said.

“Although it is as issue for pregnant women and women who want to become pregnant it’s actually pretty minor outside of that and, fortunately for us, athletes are not going to be getting pregnant going into the Games,” he said, noting the virus lasts for about a week in the blood stream.

The vast majority of people with Zika have no symptoms and for those that do they are generally mild, experts say.

Toronto Star

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