Australia warns pregnant Olympians of Brazil Games Zika danger

Published: Wednesday 27th January 2016 by The News Editor

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Australia’s Olympics authority has warned pregnant team members to consider carefully whether they will attend this year’s Games in Brazil after an outbreak of the Zika virus which can cause birth abnormalities.

A statement by the Australian Olympic Committee said “any team members who are pregnant at the time of the Games need to consider the risks very carefully before deciding whether to proceed with travel to Brazil”.

Australia team chef de mission Kitty Chiller said team medical director David Hughes was providing constantly updated advice and information about the outbreak.

Ms Chiller said: “The health and well-being of all our team members is paramount, especially those females in the team of child-bearing age.”

Meanwhile the US government is beginning research into a possible vaccine for the mosquito-borne virus as it spreads in Latin America.

But people should not expect protection any time soon – vaccine development typically takes years.

“This is not going to be overnight,” Dr Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health said.

There are, however, vaccines in various stages of development for other viruses in the same family – dengue, West Nile and chikungunya – that offer a pattern for creating something similar against Zika, said Dr Fauci, who directs NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

NIH researchers have begun some initial work and the agency also plans to boost funding to some Brazilian scientists to accelerate Zika-related research.

US president Barack Obama met his senior health advisers, including Dr Fauci, health and human services secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Centres for Disease Control director Thomas Frieden.

The White House said Mr Obama urged them to speed up research into diagnostic tests, vaccines and therapeutic drugs and work to inform Americans about the Zika virus and ways to protect against infection.

Zika, first discovered decades ago in Africa, was long thought to be more of a nuisance illness, with symptoms generally much milder than its cousin dengue. But amid a large Zika outbreak in Brazil, researchers began reporting an increase in a rare birth defect named microcephaly – babies born with abnormally small heads.

While scientists try to prove if Zika is the cause, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has advised pregnant women to reconsider travelling to Brazil and 21 other countries and territories with outbreaks.

If a Zika vaccine were eventually developed, it is not clear how widely it would be used.

Costa Rica has confirmed the first known case of the Zika virus, apparently contracted by a 25-year-old man during a trip to Colombia this month.

Authorities said he showed the first symptoms of the virus on January 22 while still in Colombia, returned to Costa Rica the following day and sought medical attention on January 24.

Experts conducted a sweep for possible mosquito breeding grounds for about 100 yards around the man’s home and fumigated the area. They also interviewed neighbours but did not find any other people with Zika symptoms.

In Venezuela, a health expert has expressed concern about the lack of information on the virus provided by authorities and is urging the government to start a national prevention campaign.

Dr Jose Felix Oletta, a former health minister and member of the non-governmental Organisation to Defend National Epidemiology, said the virus was “now a public menace” even though there were no official statistics on it.

Since January 2015, Venezuela’s ministry of health has not published the once-weekly official report on endemic and epidemic diseases in the country, sparking concern among doctors.

Published: Wednesday 27th January 2016 by The News Editor

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