UN health agency to weigh Zika risk from OIympics

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The World Health Organization (WHO) will examine the risks of holding the Olympics as currently scheduled, given the threat of Zika virus, the agency said in a letter to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). 

{mosads}WHO Director-General Margaret Chan was responding after Shaheen raised concerns that holding the Olympics in Brazil as scheduled could accelerate the spread of the virus, which can cause birth defects. 

“Given the current level of international concern, I have decided to ask members of the Zika Emergency Committee to examine the risks of holding the Olympic Summer Games as currently scheduled,” Chan wrote to Shaheen.

“The experts, well-versed in travel medicine, the epidemiology of vector-borne diseases, seasonal patterns of mosquito-borne infections, and risks communications, will meet shortly. Their advice to me will be immediately made public on our web site.”

The WHO has previously said that it does not think canceling or moving the Olympics would make much of a difference. 

“Based on current assessment, cancelling or changing the location of the 2016 Olympics will not significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus,” the agency said Saturday. 

“Brazil is 1 of almost 60 countries and territories which to date report continuing transmission of Zika by mosquitoes,” it added. “People continue to travel between these countries and territories for a variety of reasons. The best way to reduce risk of disease is to follow public health travel advice.”

A group of 150 health experts and bioethicists last week called for the Olympics to be postponed or moved because of the risk of Zika. 

Chan noted in her letter that the WHO has already sent disease experts to Brazil four times to gather information. 

Shaheen said in response to the letter that she appreciates that “Dr. Chan is taking this issue seriously.”

Senate Democrats say that next week they will again push Republicans to agree to the $1.9 billion that the White House has called for in response to the virus. 

Tags 2015–16 Zika virus epidemic Jeanne Shaheen Summer Olympics Zika Zika virus

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