Geneva. Brazil on Monday warned pregnant women to stay away from the Summer Olympics after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared an international emergency over the Zika virus, blamed for causing a surge in brain-damaged babies.
The UN health body said a rise in cases of microcephaly, in which babies are born with an abnormally small head, was likely caused by the mosquito-borne virus, and declared the situation a “public health emergency of international concern.”
That prompted an unprecedented warning from Brazil, just six months from the Olympics opening ceremony on August 5 in Rio de Janeiro.
“The risk, which I would say is serious, is for pregnant women. It is clearly not advisable for you (to travel to the Games) because you don’t want to take that risk,” said President Dilma Rousseff’s chief of staff, Jaques Wagner.
Wagner sought to downplay fears for Olympic athletes and fans who are not expectant mothers.
“I understand that no one needs to be afraid if you are not pregnant,” he said.
Olympic Committee officials “are in close contact” with the WHO and Olympic committees “around the world,” said Bach, speaking in Los Angeles.
“There is no travel ban,” he said.
The Games “will also take place in winter time in Brazil and this is not the preferred breeding time for mosquitoes.”
Zika was first detected in Uganda in 1947, but it was considered a relatively mild disease until the current outbreak was declared in Latin America last year.
Brazil was the first country to sound the alarm on the apparent link with birth defects, after health authorities noticed a surge in babies born with microcephaly.
It has since become the worst affected country, with some 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly, of which 270 have been confirmed, up from 147 in 2014.
The outbreak has sown panic in the Americas, where the WHO says it is “spreading explosively” and predicts up to four million Zika cases this year alone.