Brazil warns pregnant women to stay away from Olympics

Brazil warns pregnant women to stay away from Summer Olympics as WHO declares state of emergency over Zika virus

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Joseilda Maria, who is nine months pregnant, poses for a picture at the IMIP hospital in Recife, Brazil on January 28, 2016.

Updated Feb 3, 2016

Brazil has warned pregnant women to stay away from the Summer Olympics which will be held in Rio de Janeiro this year, as the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a state of emergency over the Zika virus.

"The risk, which I would say is serious, is for pregnant women. It is clearly not advisable for you [to travel to the Games] because you don't want to take that risk," said President Dilma Rousseff's chief of staff, Jaques Wagner.

Wagner added that there is no risk for the athletes.

"We have to explain to those coming to Brazil, the athletes, that there is zero risk if you are not a pregnant women," he said.

On Monday, the WHO declared a "public health emergency of international concern" over the Zika virus, which is thought to be linked to thousands of birth defects in Brazil.

"We are not going to wait for the science to tell us there is a link [between the virus and birth defects]. We need to take actions now," the WHO’s Director-General Margaret Chan had said earlier.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach welcomed the WHO’s declaration and said that the Zika virus will not affect the Olympics.

"We are in the close contact with the WHO and we see also that so far there is no travel ban being pronounced by the WHO," Bach said.

"We also see that the Olympic Games will be taking place in the winter time which is not the preferred breeding time for the mosquitoes."

The Summer Olympics will be held between August 5 and 21, which is winter in Brazil.

Brazilian soldiers conduct an inspection for the Aedes aegypti mosquito on a street in Recife Brazil on February 1, 2016.

Zika is an infectious virus transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito linked to babies being born with microcephaly, a condition which causes brain damage and problems with physical development in babies.

The presence of the virus was not considered to be a crisis in Brazil until this year, when health experts linked it to a surge in cases of microcephaly.

There is currently no vaccine or specific treatment for the virus, which causes flu-like symptoms and a rash.

Brazil is the country worst affected country by the virus, with some 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly, of which 270 have been confirmed. The number was 147 in 2014.

The WHO predicts up to four million cases of Zika in Latin America this year.

Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Jamaica and Puerto Rico have warned women not to get pregnant, while the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have advised pregnant women not to travel to the affected countries.

The WHO has been under pressure to move swiftly against Zika as the agency previously admitted its late response to the Ebola outbreak, which has killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa since late 2013.

Ebola was declared a global health emergency in August 2014 and continues to carry that label.

TRTWorld and agencies