The World Health Organization (WHO) is holding an emergency meeting any day now to make a new evaluation of the public health hazards of holding the summer Olympics this August in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Only last May, the WHO said it saw no reason to postpone the Rio Olympics or move it elsewhere. It simply issued an advisory to participants in the Games as well as to visitors, a list of specific instructions on what to do to protect themselves from the Zika virus. Among the precautions: Stay in air-conditioned rooms without windows and avoid visiting neighborhoods where there may be Zika-carrying mosquitoes.
That was last month. Early this month of June, the first baby with the Zika virus was born in continental United States. A Honduran woman visited her relatives in New Jersey, where she gave birth to a baby with microencephaly – a small head with a small brain. She had contracted the Zika virus in her home country, Honduras, one of the many countries in South and Central America where Zika has spread from Brazil.
In the wake of this latest development and in response to continued concerns aired by prospective Olympic participants, plus the very low number of expected tourist visitors for the Games, WHO Director General Margaret Chan on June 1 said she has asked a panel of experts to review the issue. She sent teams of scientists to Brazil to gather first-hand data and assess the level of risk to the athletes and spectators.
Should any athletes or any visitors get infected with Zika via a mosquito bite or sexual intercourse, these new victims will be returning to their home countries after the Games. They would be carriers of infection that could erupt into epidemics.
This is the worry and concern of WHO. For months, Zika was confined to South and Central America. It is now in the US because of one Honduran mother. It may well spread to other countries around the world through any of the thousands of athletes and spectators at the Olympic events. All it takes for one infection is one mosquito bite.