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If Zika more damaging then Ebola, should Rio 2016 become London 2016?

01/02/2016

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 01 Feb 2016
 


If Zika more damaging then Ebola, should Rio 2016 become London 2016?

The Christ Redeemer statue, left, overlooks Guanabara bay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - Rio 2016 Olympics  
Right now, it's 186 days to Rio 2016 and athletes worldwide who have dedicated years of their lives to achieving excellence in the sport of sailing, and all have deferred many of life's other meaningful goals-such as careers or starting families-in order to try to win glory for their countries are at risk because a viral pandemic is putting the Olympics-and possibly their family's futures-at risk.

For those who have not been following the headlines, Brazil and other South American countries are experiencing a widespread outbreak of the Zika virus, which is transmitted by mosquito bites (and possibly through bodily fluids, but this has yet to be proven), and from pregnant mothers to their unborn children.

An Aedes Aegypti mosquito on human skin in a lab in Cali, Colombia. Scientists there are studying the genetics and biology of this mosquito, which transmits the Zika virus  

According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), Zika is typically spread by the “Aedes” species of mosquito, which is also the vector for the dengue fever and chikungunya viruses.

Apparently only one in five people who contract the Zika virus experience any effects, which can run the gamut from mild symptoms to fevers, rashes, joint pain, or conjunctivitis.

But that hardly matters, because health officials strongly believe that there is a correlation between the virus and a surge in the number of babies born with microcephaly - a birth defect where children are born with significantly smaller heads than healthy infants. This in turn leads to a raft of other problems for the baby, including significant mental disabilities, seizures, and developmental issues.

World-wide this virus could cause millions of babies to be born with a life damaging disability, perhaps this could a much bigger threat to global health than the Ebola epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people in Africa.

That is the stark claim of several senior health experts ahead of an emergency meeting of the World Health Organisation on Monday which will decide whether the Zika threat – which is linked to an alarming rise in cases of foetal deformation called microcephaly – should be rated a global health crisis.

“In many ways the Zika outbreak is worse than the Ebola epidemic of 2014-15,” said Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome Trust. “Most virus carriers are symptomless. It is a silent infection in a group of highly vulnerable individuals – pregnant women – that is associated with a horrible outcome for their babies.ยจ'

As a result of the Zika outbreak and the possible connection to microcephaly, several Central and South American countries - including Ecuador, El Salvador, Jamaica and Colombia - have asked women to avoid becoming pregnant for the next two years. Repeat TWO years.

Already some airlines - including United - are offering some ticketed passengers (e.g., pregnant women, or women who plan to become pregnant, which of course could be any woman of child bearing age, that is any Olympic female athlete) headed to the affected regions an option to delay their trip or to get a refund.

Whilst there is a strong chance that the Zika virus will spread to other areas of the world where the Aedes mosquito is found (read: all of North and South America, with the exception of Canada, as well as wide swaths of the rest of the planet including much of Southern Europe, Africa and Asia), there is an equally strong chance that travellers and athletes who are attending the Games could inadvertently accelerate this spread by bringing the Zika virus back home to their family, friends and communities.

Then there's the question of how long one can remain infected and therefore serve as a vector for the virus. This last point is especially worrisome for women of childbearing age, as women can transmit the Zika virus to their unborn babies. Worse still, depending on the duration that a human can serve as a Zika vector, it could take years to know the full extent of the microcephaly risk.

Women of child bearing age are being warned to consider trips to Brazil 'carefully' ahead of the Olympic Games this August. Pictured: Geovane Silva holds his son Gustavo Henrique, who has microcephaly - one of more than 4,000 babies to be born with the condition in the last 12 months  Reuters

Given the fact that medical authorities are already suggesting the need for a two-year pregnancy deferment, medical authorities asked when would they know if future pregnancies could produce babies with micro-encephaphy or other devastating birth defects say in five years' time, answered we won't know for five years.

With The Australian Olympic Committee now advising female athletes to consider the health implications, some Australian female athletes already selected for Rio have said they will delay their decision on whether to compete or not until July, because of the fast moving situation.

The standing water in the slums of Rio and the waterways leading into Guanabara Bay are perfect breeding grounds for the transmission via the bite of mosquitoes from the Aedes genus, primarily Aedes aegypti, but others found including the Asian tiger mosquito now also common in Italy, France and Spain.

Given the fact that Brazil's promises on pollution control have not translated into action, it would be a brave of sporting administrators to assume that the mosquito would be controlled by August 2016.

Tyres and sewage float in Guanabara Bay near Rio's international port  Eliseu Cavalcante

For Rio 2016 the only good news from this potential disaster is that the possibility of getting a gastro intestinal tract infection from the faecal pollution in Guanabara Bay hardly matters when one is weighing the risks of brings a massively damaged child into the world, as a result of Rio 2016 participation.

OK, rant done, now to some more cheerful sailing news...

“Stupendously stonking spinnaker runs” - Clipper 2015-16 Round the World Yacht Race  Clipper Ventures

Clipper fleet powered by trade winds are now sailing an extended course to ensure they don't arrive early in Da Nang Vietnam, with the holidays preventing custom clearance before the end of the Tet New Year holiday.

World Match Racing series - Monsoon Cup in Jahore Malaysia, last of the monohull series won impressively by Ian Williams and his Pindar Team, his sixth WMRT world championship win. History will be made in Perth WA when the WS match racing pinnacle event switches to multihulls for the March 2-7th regatta.

2016 ISAF Sailing World Cup - Miami  Richard Langdon /Ocean Images ©

Excellent World Sailing Cup event in Miami has just finished, with 780 competitors competing. Remember only 380 sailors will be competing at the 2016 Olympic regatta.

Interestingly the World Sailing Head of Events Alistair Fox told sailing insiders at the Yachting Racing Forum in Geneva in December that the number of WSC events was set to be reduced, with rumours that at least one of the WS executive suggesting that even Miami should be cut from the roster, (even the most despairing of WS critics cannot believe our governing Executive would allow such a demented cut.)

Worrisome times ahead for sports administrators and sailors alike, right now the only thing we can all do to cheer us up is to go sailing!!


Rob Kothe, Editor at Large, Sail-World and Y&Y



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Ahead is the last vital months leading up to Rio 2016. Athletes have dedicated years of their lives to achieving excellence in the sport of sailing. Yet as these dedicated athletes fight hard to do well in a regatta that (country depending) helps determine Olympic berths, a little-known virus is putting the Olympics-and possibly their futures-at risk.... [more]
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World Match Racing Tour - Monsoon Cup - Tough calls
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World Match Racing Tour - The penultimate day of the Monsoon Cup showed just how far the world's best professional match racing teams are prepared to go in their quest to win the World Match Racing Tour, both on and off the water. There's money on the line, and there's professional pride at stake.... [more]
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ISAF Sailing World Cup - Team GB and NED images by Richard Langdon
Rachel Jaspersen,
2016 ISAF Sailing World Cup - Miami - Photographer Richard Langdon was on water at 2016 ISAF Sailing World Cup - Miami and provided this gallery of Team GB and NED images.... [more]
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Clipper Round the World Race - Fleet hit by 50 knot gusts in Tropics
The Clipper Race,
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Sailing World Cup Miami - Matt Sheahan reports plus live TV links
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Matt Sheahan reports for World sailing TV from Sailing World Cup Miami. See links at bottom of story for live coverage. Who cares about the Sailing World Cup in Miami? The answer, more than 780 competitors for starters. Yet of these, less than half will make it to the start line at the Olympic Games with its total fleet size of just 380.... [more]
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