WHO backs Rio Olympics despite Zika, sees low risk of spread

Athletes and fans should travel to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro as planned despite the Zika outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday, countering calls for delaying or relocating the Summer Games.

The international group of experts on WHO's Zika Emergency Committee discussed the risk of the Rio Games on Tuesday and acknowledged that mass gatherings can amplify outbreaks and can spread diseases around the world.

However, in the case of Brazil, the committee considered that the sports event will take place in winter when transmission by mosquitoes decreases, and that authorities are actively fighting the insects in and around the sports venues.

"The committee concluded that there is a very low risk of further international spread of Zika virus as a result of the Olympic and Paralympic Games ... " the experts said.

The recommendation countered an appeal by some 200 health experts who said in May that the games should be postponed or relocated because the masses attending it could carry Zika to additional countries.

Currently, 60 countries, including many Latin American countries, report transmission of Zika.

"Thirty per cent of international travel today is in and out of Zika-affected areas of the world," said Bruce Aylward, WHO's top official for health emergencies.

"And when you look at the proportion of that travel that will be affected by the Olympics, [it is] very, very, very marginal," he said.

Zika, which is spread by mosquitoes and through sexual contact, only causes flu symptoms in most cases.

However, WHO declared the outbreak in Latin American countries a global health emergency in February because the fast-spreading disease was also found to cause serious neurological disorders in unborn babies and adults.

Mosquito control efforts were "found to be appropriate at all [Olympic] sites," said David Heymann, who leads WHO's Zika Emergency Committee.

At the same time, the committee said Brazil should continue to step up its fight against the insects and should do a better job at informing the public about these measures.

In addition, Brazil should "ensure the availability of sufficient insect repellent and condoms for athletes and visitors."

The number of Zika infections in Brazil has dropped sharply in recent months, the country's health minister said Friday.

Last update: Wed, 15/06/2016 - 10:30

More from World

At least 12 killed in attack on hotel in north-eastern Kenya

At least twelve people were killed by unknown attackers during an attack on a hotel in north-eastern Kenya, local...

Japanese premier to ask Philippine leader to mend US ties

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to ask Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to repair soured...

Four dead after accident at Australian theme park

Four people were killed on Tuesday in an accident on a ride at Australia's Dreamworld, Queensland police said.

Hyundai strikes and Samsung woes blamed for weaker South Korea growth

South Korea's central bank on Tuesday blamed strikes at carmaker Hyundai and Samsung's smartphone troubles for...

Chinese prefab house explosion kills 14, injures 147

A powerful blast in a prefabricated home in a town in China's northwest Shaanxi province has left at least 14 people...