What You Should Know About Zika If You’re Going To The Olympics


Nope. Instead, everyone’s talking about the Zika virus.

So much so that athletes from around the world — mostly
golfers, but also basketball players and cyclists — have

given up their chance at winning gold over concerns that
they might get infected. Meanwhile, lots of other spectators
getting ready to fly down are probably wondering, “Is it
really worth the risk?”

The answer: It depends. There are definitely some things to
consider before going to a country where Zika is especially
prevalent. Even if your front row seat to the games is on
your living room couch, this list will help you understand
what’s really going on with Zika in Rio.

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1. Stay
home if you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant soon.

Stay home if you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant soon.

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Please, please, please don’t go. Trust us, you’re better off
skipping out on this one. And that’s because the Zika virus
poses the highest risk to women who are pregnant or may soon
become pregnant.

“The [main] concern is that if a pregnant woman gets
infected, it increases the risk of a very specific kind of
birth defect called microcephaly,” Dr. Pritish Tosh, an
infectious disease expert with the Mayo Clinic told BuzzFeed
Health. A baby is born with microcephaly
when their brain doesn’t fully develop during pregnancy,
which places them at a higher risk for developmental delays
and intellectual disabilities, among other health issues.

Health experts still aren’t exactly sure of how many
Zika-infected pregnant women go on to have kids with
microcephaly, but
studies
have shown a direct link between Zika infection and the
birth defect. Tosh says that the risk is significant enough
for the CDC to recommend all pregnant women avoid traveling
to areas with Zika unless absolutely necessary.

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2. If
you’re not pregnant, you’re (mostly) good.

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For men and women who don’t plan on having kids anytime soon,
“the impact of the Zika virus on you is probably going to be
very minimal,” Tosh said. In fact, about 80% of people who
become infected “have absolutely no symptoms whatsoever.”

Aside from the risks it poses to pregnant women, it’s in the
same class as other viral infections you’d normally get from
mosquitos, including dengue, West Nile, and yellow
fever, Dr. Daniel Eiras, MPH, Associate Hospital
Epidemiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center told BuzzFeed
Health.

Dealing with it will probably still suck — for those who do
have symptoms, it can cause fever, rash, and joint pain — but
it won’t cause any long-term health consequences. That goes
for
Guillain-Barré syndrome too, which Tosh said only about
“a few in a million” people will develop.

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3. But keep
in mind that being in a Zika-affected area means you need to
be careful for the next few weeks/months.

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While Zika only stays in the bloodstream for a week or two,
it might remain in bodily fluids for much longer. The CDC is
still testing this, but so far it’s found that the virus
remains in men’s semen the longest, and
one case of female-to-male transmission suggests it can
be found in women’s vaginal secretions too. Either way, this
makes it possible to transmit the virus to someone who may
become pregnant.

According to the
CDC, Zika can be transmitted through vaginal, anal, and
oral sex as well as from sharing sex toys. It can also be
passed before, during, and after symptoms appear, which means
it’s probably best to use condoms and other barrier
protection just in case, Eiras said.

The CDC
recommends:
* Anyone who returns from the Olympics without
symptoms
of the virus should wait eight weeks before
having sex without condoms or trying to get pregnant.
* For men who have had symptoms, wait at least

six months before having sex without condoms, especially
if you’re trying to have a child.
* For women who have had symptoms, wait at least

eight weeks before trying to have a baby.

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4. Your
actual risk of getting Zika is probably low.

Your actual risk of getting Zika is probably low.

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“We believe visitors to the games are expected to have a …
reduced risk of getting Zika from mosquitos because the games
are occurring in the winter season, when cooler temperatures
and drier air typically reduce mosquito populations,” Dr.
Marty Cetron, director of the CDC’s Division of Global
Migration and Quarantine, said in a press call last week.

This comes from studying decades of dengue transmission from
the same Aedes aegypti mosquito, which also spreads
Zika. Historically, he said, there’s usually about a 90%
reduction in new infections in Rio, thanks in part to the
“strong seasonality in the southern parts of Brazil.”

A recent study
from Yale University considered a worst-case scenario where
visitors experienced the same living conditions as local
residents, and found that even then, only about 1 to 60 of
the 350,000 to 500,000 people visiting Rio for the games
would become infected. Sixteen or less would show symptoms.

In addition to this seasonal advantage, Eiras said the
Brazilian government has also been fumigating the city and
getting rid of areas where standing water can collect.

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5. But you
should obviously be vigilant about avoiding mosquitos as much
as possible.

But you should obviously be vigilant about avoiding mosquitos as much as possible.

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Mainly by staying in rooms with air conditioners or screens —
you’ll never appreciate these more than in this moment.
Besides that, you can also take steps to
prevent bug bites in general. Wear long sleeves and long
pants (preferably treated with permethrin), and use bug
sprays containing DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon
eucalyptus.

Also keep in mind that the Aedes aegypti mosquitos are
“aggressive daytime biters” that thrive in urban
environments, and that “any place where there is a high
congregation of humans could potentially increase risk of
biting,” Eiras said. In other words, you need to be armed in
this battle against whatever winter-surviving mosquitos there
are.

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6. There
are other health risks you should know about.

There are other health risks you should know about.

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As BuzzFeed News
previously reported, there are plenty of other risks that
are more concerning for travelers to Rio, like the flu,
crime, or water-borne illnesses.

Aside from Zika, Cetron said visitors to Rio are more likely
to come down with some kind of gastrointestinal illness,
whether it’s nausea and vomiting or full-on
travelers diarrhea. Rio has long
struggled with raw sewage and garbage flowing from storm
drains into Guanabara Bay and the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon,
where sailing and rowing races will take place during the
games. According to the
World Health Organization, this water is full of bacteria
and viruses, including E. coli and Salmonella
typhi
, which causes typhoid fever.

To reduce your risk, the CDC
suggests eating food that’s cooked and served hot; eating
raw fruit only if it can be peeled or washed with clean
water; and not drinking tap water, drinks with ice, or drinks
diluted with tap water. Cetron said some people also like to
carry around Pepto Bismol and “maybe some antibiotics. And if
you’re unsure of which foods are safe to eat, download the
CDC’s Can I
Eat This? app.

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7. If you
haven’t gotten immunized, now’s the time. Like, right now.

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Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Via
giphy.com

That includes making sure you’re up to date on all your
routine vaccines, like MMR, polio, and flu, but also
Hepatitis A, typhoid, and yellow fever, among
others. While yellow fever is mosquito-borne, Hepatitis A
and typhoid can both be spread through contaminated food and
water.

If you haven’t gotten any shots yet, then you’re already
running short on time considering you should get vaccinated
four to six weeks prior to leaving to “allow protective
immunity to kick in,” Cetron said. However, he also noted
that some vaccines may take as little as two weeks, and that
“it’s always better to have some vaccination than nothing at
all.” So talk to your doctor or visit a travel health clinic
for advice.

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8. Zika
prevention doesn’t end when you get on the plane back home.

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As of July 27, there were 1,657 travel-associated cases of
Zika in the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy, US Surgeon
General, said in the press call. That means each of those
people acquired Zika in another country and then traveled
back to the US — not that they were infected by a local
mosquito in the US.

That said, Florida Governor Rick Scott announced on Monday
that the Wynwood area of Miami has seen several cases of
locally acquired Zika, BuzzFeed News
previously reported. According to the Florida Department
of Health, that number is now up to
15 cases. So be sure to read any travel advisories and
talk to your doctor if you’re concerned.

To prevent further spread, the CDC asks everyone who’s
traveled to a Zika-affected country to continue preventing
mosquito bites for three weeks after they get back home.
Reminder: that includes wearing permethrin-treated
long-sleeve shirts and pants, using bug repellents, and
getting rid of any standing water — Aedes mosquitos
can even breed in the water inside a bottle cap, Cetron said.

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If all that’s taken care of, you’re probably going to have a
fuckin blast.

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“Just because there’s Zika in Brazil, for a man or a
non-pregnant woman, that’s not a reason to not go there,”
Eiras said. “There are plenty of other viruses that have been
and still are in Brazil, and those weren’t reasons to not go
there before. So when patients ask me if they should go to
the Olympics, I say, ‘Yes, go!’ Enjoy it, have a good time,
and be safe.”

After all, you’re about to have a front row seat to one of
the world’s greatest competitions.

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