The 2016 Olympics in Rio are riddled with problems, one of them being a potentially global pandemic. Medical doctors are worried that the huge gathering could spark a massive Zika epidemic.
Reminiscent of the 2014-2015 Ebola panic, news of the Zika epidemic has spread like wildfire through Brazil and most of South America. The virus, which was once a serious risk for expectant mothers in Brazil, may already be shaping up to be an “explosive pandemic”, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Reports of Zika outbreaks have increased at a staggering rate of 2500% from 2014 to 2016, leading the WHO to declare it a global public health emergency. Unlike Ebola, Zika has not been reported as deadly to infected persons. Neither does it remain in a person indefinitely. However, Zika is especially dangerous to pregnant women, being linked to a number of birth defects, including microcephaly.
Writing in the Harvard Public Health Review, Dr Amir Attaran warns that the Olympic Games could drastically speed up the spread of the virus, and suggested the Games could be hosted by another city in Brazil where the illness is less of a threat. He said:
“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.”
Brazil is already facing an extremely volatile political situation which raises big question marks about the country’s capacity to host such a major event. In much of the country, environmental problems also plague the population, as a water crisis seems inevitable this summer and gang violence is ever on the rise. It seems like the perfect opportunity for the disease to spread. Hopefully, this won’t be the case.