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The reign of the Zika virus is moving at a tremendous pace, and this time around 2.2 billion people could be at potential risk with the onset of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

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Brazil has encountered 1.5 million cases of Zika virus to date. In addition, about 1000 cases of microcephaly associated with Zika have been reported.  Rio de Janeiro alone accounts for an infection rate of 175 per 100,000 persons, and this is the place where the global Olympic gathering is going to take place in 2016, thus posing a big threat towards an outburst of the virus. The U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as a landmark experimental study have found a connecting link between Zika virus infection and microcephaly due to neural cell death.

Scientists have found that microcephaly is caused by the activation of TRL 3 receptor by the virus.  This receptor is a chief member of the TRL family assigned for recognition and signalling of pathogen entry in the body.

The most horrible thing about this virus is that so far no effective vaccine has been synthesized and it is continuing to spread at the same pace. Now, with 500,000 people about to enter Rio in August this year, the virus  may spread at an exponential rate, raising high concerns among medical officials.

Although there are no visible effects of the disease on adults, the statement issued by the CDC states the virus can possibly cause Guillain-Barré syndrome.  This syndrome makes a person’s nervous system vulnerable to its own immune system, which implies that a person’s immune system can trigger an attack on its own nervous system. However, the World Health Organization has not released any report about whether it is advisable to travel to Rio for the 2016 Olympic season or not.

Dr. Amir Attaran is a lawyer, biologist, and law and population health professor at the University of Ottawa, and according to his report published in Harvard Public Health Review, Rio 2016 Olympic games should be held in any other less compromised city of Brazil instead, as huge public gatherings could give Zika virus a jumpstart in its worldwide spread. The report reads as follows:

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While Brazil’s Zika inevitably will spread globally, given enough time – viruses always do – it helps nobody to speed that up. In particular, it cannot possibly help when an estimated 500,000 foreign tourists flock into Rio for the Games, potentially becoming infected, and returning to their homes where both local Aedes mosquitoes and sexual transmission can establish new outbreaks.”

All it takes is one infected traveller, a few viral introductions of that kind, in a few countries, or maybe continents, would make a full-blown global health disaster.”

If one assumes, reasonably, that Zika will behave like dengue fever, because they are caused by related viruses and transmitted by the same Aedes aegypti mosquito, then Zika transmission will ebb but not vanish in Rio’s winter, just as dengue did in winters past.”

According to the report of the British Broadcasting Corporation, 7.5 million tickets are available for Rio’s 2016 Olympic Games. The anticipated 500,000 people visiting the city, combined with the workers at Rio 2016, are going to put an immense quantity of lives at stake, along with the risk of worldwide viral transmission.

The medical director for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Richard Budgett, gave a strong reply to the statements made by Attaran’s quoting:

“The clear statements from WHO that there should be no restrictions on travel and trade means there is no justification for cancelling or delaying or postponing or moving the Rio Games. The IOC will continue to monitor the situation very closely and work with the WHO, and we’re confident as we’ve been advised by the experts that the situation will improve over the next three months.”

Most of the people among us neglect Zika virus and consider it harmless, but it is a misconception rather than misinformation. Instead, Zika has the potential to cause neurological birth defects if passed on to a pregnant woman.  In addition, a recent scientific study reveals that the Brazilian strain of Zika is much more harmful than other strains of the virus present in different parts of the globe. A study on a French Polynesia Zika outbreak, which marks the starting point of Zika, suggests that the chances of microcephaly in a fetus increase by 53% if a woman is infected by the Brazilian strain of Zika virus.


(1) Zika Infections During Rio 2016 Olympic Games Could Create A “Full-Blown Global Health Disaster”

(2) Zika virus during Rio Olympics – What we know so far

(3) Rio Olympics could spark ‘full blown global health disaster’, say Harvard scientists

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