Fears grow over Olympics in Brazil, epicenter of Zika virus

Getty Images

Democratic lawmakers are raising concerns about this summer’s Olympic Games held in Brazil amid the rapid spread of the Zika virus.

Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyTim Kaine backs call to boost funding for Israeli missile defense FCC chief pushes phone companies to offer free robocall blocking Markey floats bill bringing internet to developing world MORE (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Thursday urged the Obama administration to address the “ever-growing spread” of the disease — especially as thousands of people plan to gather this summer near its epicenter.

Brazil has recorded thousands of cases of Zika virus, a mosquito-borne illness that can have life-threatening effects on unborn babies. The country has reported hundreds of cases of birth defects associated with Zika, though global health experts say they have not confirmed the link. 

ADVERTISEMENT
“This is clearly an urgent issue for our government,” Markey wrote in a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services.

He specifically called attention to the “abundance of U.S. travelers who are expected to attend the 2016 Olympics” and frequent travel between the U.S. and the affected regions.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) also called on the administration to lead a global response to the disease ahead of the Olympic games.

"With millions of visitors planning to visit Brazil for the upcoming Olympics, the virus has the potential to spread even further," DeLauro wrote in a statement. “The Zika virus is quickly becoming a full-fledged public health crisis."

The disease is not life-threatening to adults who are not pregnant, with mild symptoms that resemble dengue fever. 

U.N. health officials on Thursday launched an emergency committee to evaluate the disease’s spread, and the body will vote next week on whether to officially declare it a global health emergency.

More than 23 countries have reported cases, including the U.S., which has reported about a dozen cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned women who are, or may become, pregnant to avoid the areas.

Olympics officials have downplayed the threat for the event, which will hold its opening ceremony Aug. 5.

“The Olympic and Paralympic venues will be inspected on a daily basis,” Philip Wilkinson, a spokesman for Rio 2016, wrote in a statement to The Guardian last week. He added that Brazil's weather in August — the country's colder season — will present less of a threat for the spread of mosquitoes.