Controversy continues to surround the 2016 Rio Olympics as athletes and experts weigh in as to whether or not “the show must go on.” At the center of the controversy is the outbreak of the Zika virus in South America. The scientific community’s understanding of Zika continues to evolve, but one thing is for sure: Zika has made a number of people very wary about the Rio games.
The Case Against the Olympics
Zika has now been tied to a birth defect called microcephaly that causes infants to be born with an abnormally small head and brain. Now experts believe it can also cause Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare but awful disease that leads to paralysis as the body’s own immune system attacks its nerve cells. As the epicenter of the Zika outbreak and the host of the 2016 Summer Olympics, Rio de Janeiro is now dealing with a frightened and confused public reaction.
Most notably, a group of more than 200 doctors from around the world wrote and signed an open letter to the World Health Organization calling for the Rio 2016 Games to be moved to another location or postponed until the threat of Zika was better contained. More than 30,000 cases of Zika are recorded in Rio, and experts fear that so much international travel to and from Rio for the Olympics will accelerate the spread of Zika to previously safe places and place more people at risk of Guillain-Barre Syndrome and microcephaly.
The Case for the Olympics
The World Health Organization (WHO), on the other hand, is insisting that the risk level is not high enough to postpone or move the 2016 Olympics. They claim that there is a “very low risk” that the Rio Games will spread the Zika virus, especially because the Olympics takes place in August, during Rio’s winter. Between the naturally smaller winter mosquito population and intensive mosquito-control measures enacted by Rio authorities, guests and athletes are being told they will remain safe and Zika-free.
However, even the WHO and other public health agencies have announced that pregnant women should not join in the Olympic festivities out of an abundance of safety to avoid microcephaly. Savannah Guthrie, the NBC “Today” show anchor is expecting her second child and recently bowed out of covering the games, setting a pattern that will definitely emerge in the next few months.