Women urged to avoid Olympics over Zika

Wednesday February 3 2016

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff speaks as she attends a ministerial meeting to discuss new measures to combat the proliferation of the Zika virus in Brazil, at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, on February 1, 2016.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff speaks as she attends a ministerial meeting to discuss new measures to combat the proliferation of the Zika virus in Brazil, at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, on February 1, 2016. President Rousseff’s chief of staff has said pregnant women should not travel to Brazil for the Olympics because of the risk posed by the Zika virus, suspected of causing foetal brain damage. PHOTO | EVARISTO SA | AFP

By AFP
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BRASÍLIA, Tuesday

Pregnant women should not travel to Brazil for the Olympics because of the risk posed by the Zika virus, suspected of causing fetal brain damage, President Dilma Rousseff’s chief of staff said on Tuesday.

“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 Cabinet chief Jaques Wagner.

The unprecedented warning, issued just over six months from the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, came after the World Health Organisation declared an emergency over the mosquito-borne virus, suspected of causing microcephaly, or abnormally small heads, in babies.

Mr Wagner said Ms Rousseff viewed the WHO’s move as “positive” because it “alerts the whole world, including the scientific world, to the danger of the new virus.”

DOWNPLAY FEARS

He sought to downplay fears for any travellers who are not expecting mothers. “If you’re an adult, a man or a woman who isn’t pregnant, you develop antibodies in about five days and (the disease) passes,” he said.

“I understand that no one needs to be afraid if you are not pregnant.”

However, some health officials have also blamed the Zika virus for causing Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder in which the immune system attacks the nervous system, causing weakness and sometimes paralysis.

Most patients recover, but the syndrome is sometimes deadly. “We’ve got to win this. And we are going to win this war on the country’s number one enemy - the Aedes aegypti mosquito,” said Health Minister Marcelo Castro.

“The federal government understands that this is the biggest problem facing Brazil. And government resources are forthcoming.”

Zika was first detected in Africa in 1947, but it was considered a relatively mild disease until the current outbreak was declared in Latin America last year.