Olympic Athletes to Be Part of Case Study for Zika – U.S. News & World Report

Scientists funded by the U.S. government will be testing a subset of Olympic and Paralympic participants in Brazil for Zika to better understand how the virus spreads, the National Institutes of health announced Tuesday.

Researchers will be collecting bodily fluids and handing out surveys to 1,000 Olympic participants – volunteers from among the athletes, coaches and staff – as well as to their sexual partners who want to take part. They hope to determine the incidence of Zika infection and identify risk factors. The study will aim to better understand where the virus is present in the body – whether in blood, semen, vaginal secretions or saliva – and for how long. In cases where a woman becomes pregnant, researchers will study reproductive outcomes for a year after the Olympics end.

Dr. Catherine Spong, acting director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which is funding the study, said in a statement that monitoring health and reproductive outcomes during the Olympics would offer a “unique opportunity to answer important questions and help address an ongoing public health emergency.”

Fear of Zika has led some athletes to drop out of the games, even though the Olympic Committee has told athletes they can safely perform in Brazil next month without worrying about infection. Zika, which is spread primarily through mosquitoes but can also be transmitted sexually, has been confirmed in nearly 50,000 adults in Brazil and causes birth defects.

Those who participate in the study will be tested for Zika routinely, as the majority of adults who become infected with the virus don’t even know they have it. Some of the most alarming consequences of Zika have been linked to microcephaly, in which babies are born with unusually small heads and with brain damage. Some women in the U.S. already have had miscarriages following infection, while others have had abortions after discovering possible brain abnormalities.

Rare but more severe cases have been reported in adults. Some have developed symptoms similar to multiple sclerosis, or can develop a form of paralysis called Guillain Barre syndrome.

Despite several calls from public health experts for the Olympics to be canceled because the Zika outbreak is higher in Brazil than anywhere else, the Olympic Committee has refused to move the Games, the opening ceremonies for which are scheduled to begin in a month.

The World Health Organization has said the Games should go on, but that athletes should take precautions against infection, including wearing condoms and using insect repellent. WHO did advise, however, that pregnant women not attend the Olympics.

Source:: Google – Health