'Very low risk' of Zika spread over Rio Olympics says World Health Organisation


There is a "very low risk" of international spread as a result of the Rio Olympics, the World Health Organisation's Emergency Committee on Zika has concluded.

The panel assessed information and research on the risk of mosquito-borne diseases, particularly Zika, spreading through international travel and mass gatherings.

Dr David Heymann, chairman of the Emergency Committee on Zika, also announced that the public health emergency now includes the virus as part of it.

Speaking after the committee's third meeting, he said: "The evidence clearly shows that Zika virus does travel internationally and it does set up change of transmission in areas where the mosquito vector is present.

"After having discussed the general epidemiology of Zika, the committee then focused on the potential risks connected with the Olympics and Paralympics.

"And the committee concluded that there is a very low risk of further international spread of Zika virus as a result of the Olympics and Paralympics, which is already low. The risk is already low, there is very low risk of further international spread from the Olympics."

He further explained the panel had looked at the potential harm to people at mass gatherings.

It came to the conclusion that while there was a risk of transmission at such events, it was not any worse for people travelling to the Games this summer.

Dr Heymann said: "It became clear that mass gatherings bring together substantial numbers of people who could be susceptible to infections, they therefore pose a risk to these individuals themselves.

"And they can result in amplification of transmission at the site where the Olympics or Paralympics are held and potentially they could contribute to international spread."

He continued: "And it was clear to the committee that there are significant personal risks as there are for anyone travelling anywhere, but the risks are no different for people going to the Olympics or Paralympics than they are for people going to other areas where there are outbreaks of Zika."

In the context of Zika virus, the committee noted that the individual risks in areas of transmission are the same whether or not a mass gathering is conducted.

In the previous two meetings the public health emergency was congenital malformations and other neurological disorders, but this time the committee agreed the evidence was strong enough to say the emergency also had Zika as part of it.

"The first part was to determine if the public health emergency still stood, and it does, and it has been broadened to include Zika virus," said Dr Heymann.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the Zika epidemic to be a global emergency in February.

The majority of those infected with Zika will have no symptoms, but for others it can cause a mild illness with symptoms including a rash, fever and headache.

Serious complications that arise from infection are not common, but experts have said the virus can cause microcephaly, where babies are born with abnormally small heads due to the fact their brains have not developed properly.

Pregnant women have already been advised not to travel to Rio and the WHO have predicted the Zika risk in August would drop since it will be the south American winter and there should be fewer mosquitoes.