Athletes concerned about Zika before Rio Olympic test event

A biologist displays Aedes mosquito cells inoculated with Zika virus in the laboratory of Biology from University of Campinas (UNICAMP), in Campinas, Brazil, on Feb 11, 2016.
A biologist displays Aedes mosquito cells inoculated with Zika virus in the laboratory of Biology from University of Campinas (UNICAMP), in Campinas, Brazil, on Feb 11, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - International athletes set to compete in an Olympic diving test event in Rio de Janeiro next week have asked about risks linked to the Zika virus.

But they have not cancelled participation because of the outbreak, one of the organisers said on Friday (Feb 12).

"They are concerned and are being given advice on how to proceed," Cassius Duran, a former Brazilian diver, told reporters at the inauguration of the remodelled Maria Lenk Aquatic Center, where the Olympic diving will be held in August.

Duran said organisers were telling athletes to use repellents to protect themselves against mosquito bites, the primary means of transmission of the virus.

The test event, which runs from Feb 19 to 24, is a stage of the Diving World Cup and 270 athletes from 50 countries are due to compete.

Athletes and visitors planning to come to the Olympics have expressed concern about Zika, a virus linked to birth defects in newborns, which has been reported in more than 30 countries, according to the World Health Organization.

Brazil is investigating the potential link between Zika infections and more than 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly, a condition marked by abnormally small head size that can result in developmental problems.

Researchers have identified evidence of Zika infection in 17 of these cases, either in the baby or in the mother, but have not confirmed that Zika can cause microcephaly.

Olympic organisers have previously said the games would be held during Rio's winter when there tends to be fewer mosquitoes. However, a Reuters report this week showed there was not always a decline in mosquito-borne infections during that season.

Rio's Mayor Eduardo Paes said the city was pulling out all stops to ensure the safety of athletes.

"We are doing everything to avoid any type of danger for any of the athletes who come," he said. "There is a Zika problem, but I think there is also a certain amount of exaggeration and ignorance. It is this that frightens more than the virus itself," he said.