Rio 2016: How Zika is Impacting the Summer Olympics

Post of Rio 2016: How Zika is Impacting the Summer Olympics

On Friday, August 5th, thousands of people will descend on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Olympic Games. For the next two weeks, the world’s greatest athletes will compete for medals on the world stage. However, what is usually a highlight for the international community, bringing countries and athletes together from all over the world, is proving to be a divisive and perhaps dangerous event.

Brazil is facing a barrage of issues from terrorist threats, an ongoing presidential impeachment scandal, and the Zika virus. Since we are mosquito control experts and not political pundits, we’ll focus on the latter of these problems, but it’s important to understand the broader struggle Brazil is dealing with heading into the Games.

The Bigger Picture

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil crowded beach
Crowded Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

It’s been a question for months whether or not Brazil is ready to host the estimated 500,000 people who are traveling to Rio next month for the Olympics. The country is in the middle of its worst economic crisis since the 1930s, police officers are protesting and striking over delayed paychecks, Olympic facilities are not complete, and Brazil is one of the countries most highly affected by the Zika virus.

Over 160,000 cases of Zika have been reported in Brazil so far this year. Since October 2015, 1,657 cases of microcephaly and other congenital birth defects were reported in newborns. Despite the high numbers, Brazilian health officials claim the rate of new cases in Rio is decreasing rapidly from 5,000 a week earlier in the year to just 30 a week in June.

When addressing specific concerns about the Olympics expediting the spread of Zika, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the risk of becoming infected during the Games is low. The half million expected visitors represent less than 0.25% of the travel to Zika-affected countries in 2015, meaning the Games’ contribution to the spread of the virus is small. Likewise, health officials claim that because the Games occur during Brazil’s winter months, the mosquito population will be much lower and more inactive than in the summer. However, minimum August temperatures in Rio are between 62 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit, which is plenty warm for mosquitoes to thrive.

Domestic and International Response

Brazilian government and health officials have taken steps in recent months to combat Zika virus and the spread of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito ahead of the Games. The city of Rio claims to have sent over 3,500 Health Vigilance Agents to inspect buildings for potential mosquito breeding grounds, claiming to have visited over 5 million buildings so far in 2016.  It is unclear what effect, if any, these agents have had so far.

Zika Virus Research
A Zika virus researcher at the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases Vaccine Research Center pipets samples.

The Brazilian Health Ministry has released an app designed to monitor spread of Zika, microcephaly, and Guillain-Barre Syndrome. The app, called Guardioes de Saude, is available in seven languages and will allow users to report daily health conditions and symptoms associated with Zika. This information is then transferred to a map, helping users avoid critical areas and helping health officials track the spread of the virus.

Due partially to the fact that Zika is sexually-transmittable, the Brazilian Health Ministry is distributing 450,000 condoms to Olympic athletes to prevent unplanned pregnancies and the spread of disease.  With 10,500 athletes set to compete, that’s 42 condoms per person. The Olympics have long had a reputation for “romance” amongst the athletes, but Zika virus is creating a new need for safety.

While many scientists are calling for the Games to be postponed or move, many are using the Olympics as an opportunity to study Zika virus. According to a Newsweek article from July 1, 2016, “The National Institutes of Health recently announced a grant award to a group of researchers who plan to examine the long-term reproductive impact of Zika by using a unique cohort composed of Olympic athletes, coaches, other staff members of the U.S. Olympic Committee and even spouses of participating athletes.” The study is designed to help scientists understand how long Zika remains active in the body and available for transmission.


Between the political and economic upheaval, security threats, and concern over the Zika virus, there is likely to be non-athletic news from the 2016 Olympics right up until the closing ceremonies. Many athletes such as golfers Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy have already decided to skip the Games because of Zika and the lack of knowledge about its reproductive effects. Thousands more, however, are forging ahead to perform at the one of the world’s greatest competitions.

We wish the best of luck to all the athletes and hope for a safe and enjoyable experience for all those involved. We will continue to update you on the Olympics and the Zika virus situation in general. Please visit the Mosquito Joe Zika Virus Information Page for continuous news. And if you or someone you know is in need of mosquito control services, give your local Mosquito Joe a call today for a free quote.

Go team USA!

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