Off to Rio for Games? Take extra precautions

Brazilian soldiers conducting an inspection for the Aedes aegypti mosquito on a street in Recife, Brazil, on Feb 1, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

The sporting fever which will engulf Brazil when Rio de Janeiro hosts the Olympics from Aug 5 to 21 has taken on a different tone, following the outbreak of the Zika virus in the South American country.

As organisers ramp up efforts to curb the spread of the disease, the International Olympic Committee has also sent out an advisory to all participating nations on how to deal with the virus.

Team Singapore's chef de mission for the Rio Games, Mr Low Teo Ping, said in a statement: "We have (advised) the athletes and officials to take extra precautions, such as to minimise the risks and contact with mosquitoes when visiting areas susceptible to the virus and to take measures in preventing insect bites."

However, there is still a risk that the mosquito-borne disease could find its way here, with Singapore sending at least 14 athletes to the Games. The number excludes officials, while more athletes could join them as the qualifying window is still open for some sports.

Infectious disease specialist Leong Hoe Nam of Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital advised women to put off pregnancy plans for at least a month after returning from Rio.

He also urged all to apply mosquito repellent, especially during the day, when the Aedes aegypti mosquito - which spreads the virus - is known to be active. "If a person doesn't display any symptoms when he comes back, and a mosquito bites him and then bites someone else... that's the scary part."

About 80 per cent of those infected do not display symptoms, and the Aedes aegypti mosquito is common here.

Rio-bound Singapore athletes, while mindful of the disease, are calm. Marathoner Neo Jie Shi, who is married, said: "I'm not too worried as I wouldn't get pregnant if I'm going to run the marathon. But I will still take the necessary precautions."

Brazil has stepped up preventive measures ahead of the Olympics, expected to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors.

More than 3,000 officials have been mobilised to clear hot spots in Rio de Janeiro, while competition venues will be inspected daily. The 90,000-seat Sambadrome, venue of the Olympics' archery events, was fumigated last week.

Singapore's Ministry of Health last week advised those travelling to affected countries, especially pregnant women, to protect themselves from mosquito bites by wearing clothing that covers the body and limbs, applying insect repellent and sleeping under mosquito nets.

The Zika virus has spread to over 20 countries in three continents.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 02, 2016, with the headline Off to Rio for Games? Take extra precautions. Subscribe