Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 7th 2016 Contents A26
body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Tuesday, June 7, 2016
There s a heated battle going on about the Sum-
mer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Nearly 200 scien-
tists signed a letter to the World Health Organization
(WHO) very recently, calling for the games to be
moved because of the ongoing epidemic of Zika in
But many health officials---including those at
WHO---say having the games in Rio doesn t pose a
big enough threat to warrant moving them.
So who s right?
To figure out whether Zika might be a big problem
at the Olympics, there s one key piece of information
you need: How many mosquitoes will be in Rio during
That s exactly what epidemiologist Mikkel Quam
has been working on. He used a mathematical model---
and data from another outbreak in Rio---to estimate
the chance spectators and athletes will get a mosquito
bite for three weeks in August, when the games take
"I was legitimately surprised," says Quam, who
works at Umea University in Sweden. "There s very
little mosquito activity during the Olympics."
August is winter in Brazil. It s cooler and drier. So
the mosquito population is way down.
Only about four per cent of fans will get bitten at
least once by a mosquito that could carry Zika, Quam
estimates. The chance they ll catch Zika is even
lower---much, much lower.
"I think we ll get cases but I don t expect many
cases," Quam says.
It s hard to calculate the exact number. But a pre-
liminary model suggests that, at most, 1 in 31,000
people at the games will get infected with Zika, Quam
and his colleagues recently reported.
Officials are expecting around 500,000 spectators
and athletes. Then the model predicts, there will
be---at most---16 cases of Zika at the Olympics.
So attendees are much more likely to get the flu
or food poisoning at the games than Zika, the Euro-
pean Center for Disease Prevention and Control con-
"If I would be an athlete competing, from what
I ve read, I would be more concerned about the pol-
lution in the water than Zika," says Alessandro Vespig-
nani, at Northeastern University in Boston.
But whether the Rio games pose a danger to the
world isn t just about the number of Zika cases,
Vespignani says. It s also about where those cases
go---what s the chance a fan or athlete brings the
virus home to a place without Zika and triggers a
new outbreak in Africa or Asia---or here in the States?
So Vespignani is working on a computer model
for the US government to predict how Zika will
spread. Keeping the games in Rio doesn t seem to
change the course of the epidemic in his models.
"There are already so many cases around the world
that adding a little bit more cases is not going to
make a difference at this point," Vespignani says.
So there s no reason to move the games because
of Zika, he believes. So far the continental US has
had about 600 cases of Zika. They ve all come from
travellers to other countries. Each year hundreds of
millions of Americans travel to countries where Zika
is circulating, a recent study found.
"The Olympics would represent less than 0.25 per
cent of all travel to Zika-affected areas," Dr Thomas
Frieden, the Centers for Disease Control and Pre-
vention s director, said last week to reporters.
So even if the Olympics were called off, "we d still
be left with 99.75 per cent of the risk of Zika con-
tinuing to spread," Frieden said.
But all these predictions and models are just that---
predictions. Like weather predictions, they are often
wrong. And they re based on many assumptions,
such as the idea that Zika behaves similarly to the
way other mosquito-borne viruses do.
"The problem is, we just don t know that," says
Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University.
He s one of the researchers that wrote the letter to
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
News and Advice
WHO, calling for the Olympics to be moved. He says
the stakes are too high.
"I think it s ethically dubious to run the Olympics
when you ve got an epidemic of a virus that we don t
understand very well," Caplan says.
For instance, scientists still don t know how long
Zika can linger in the body or how big of a problem
sexual transmission is. (NPR)
Does the Olympics in Rio
put world in danger of Zika?
The Zika virus is
spread by the Aedes
species of mosquito.
Links Archive June 6th 2016 June 8th 2016 Navigation Previous Page Next Page