understanding zika at the olympics

Zika Olympics Blog PhotoMany of us look forward to the start of the Olympics. Not only is it an amazing display of athletics, but also an important international and cultural event. The 2016 Rio Games have already been highly controversial with the fear of the spread of the Zika virus which is prevalent in the region and spread primarily through mosquitoes. However, scientists are taking this opportunity to better understand how the Zika virus spreads and aim to better understand where the virus is present in the body by testing a group of Olympic and Paralympic participants in Brazil.

According to the National Institutes of Health, researchers will be collecting samples and surveying 1,000 volunteer Olympic participants, including athletes, coaches and staff. Zika poses many unknown risks so by monitoring the health and reproductive outcomes of members of the U.S. Olympic team researchers may be able to answer some important questions on how to best address this public health concern.

Although some public health experts have called for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, which are scheduled to start next week, to be cancelled (there is a higher rate of Zika outbreak in Brazil than anywhere else), the Olympic Committee has refused. In addition, the World Health Organization has stated that the Games should go on, however all athletes and attendees should take precautions and wear insect repellent.

In preparation for this, many consumers are looking for natural repellents, but there are questions as to whether these natural options are effective. For example, mosquito repelling bracelets often contain natural products like essential oils, but because these ingredients are not considered a risk to people or the environment, federal law states that they are exempt from scientific review by the government. Consumer Reports findings on these bracelets suggests that they are minimally effective, this is not to say that these products don’t work to some extent, but they have not been subjected to the same rigorous scientific testing as other EPA registered products. “Not all insect repellents are created equal. There are significant discrepancies with regards to the degree and duration of protection. Consumers must pay close attention to reapplication requirements,” says Marisa Bisiani, DNP, ANP-BC, Mather’s Director of Infection Prevention.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintain that “the most effective way to protect against mosquito bites is to use only EPA-registered products,” since “wearing ineffective mosquito repellent this summer could have consequences that go far beyond unpleasant bumps and itchiness.” As always prevention is key in warding off mosquito bites and mosquito borne illnesses, whether you’re an Olympic athlete or just out for a jog in the park make sure you apply your bug repellent before you “go for the gold”.


For more information on home remedies to reduce itchiness of mosquito bites read our previous post here.