Brazilian politicians are presenting a cool, calm, and collected front in the run-up to the host country’s Olympic Games. It can’t be an easy task for them, as an expected one half-million people from all over the world descend on Rio de Janeiro. National health organizations have issued warnings that pregnant women and women who may become pregnant ought not visit Rio at all.
This, of course, is due to the ongoing Zika virus epidemic in Brazil. Though it is now winter in the Southern Hemisphere, world health experts believe the risks are too great. Additionally, scientists have only recently verified several cases in which a man with Zika passed the virus to a woman via sexual contact. Woman are most at risk, because of the potential to pass the virus onto their fetuses, thereby exposing them to serious birth defects.
Not exactly the ideal situation for organizers looking to cash in on Olympic tourism.
The Zika virus, which is spread predominantly by a species of mosquito common in Brazil, is not the only major issue affecting the host country of late. In 2015, President Dilma Rousseff was impeached for alleged corruption. The nation’s economic struggles have now gone on parade in Rio, as police officers and firefighters protest lack of pay. On Wednesday, the protesters held a large banner at Rio de Janeiro–Galeão International Airport which read, in part, “Welcome to HELL.” It also stated the visitors would “not be safe” because of the labor strife in public services.
In interviews on NPR’s “Diane Rehm Show” Tuesday, experts seemed to agree that stakeholders in the Rio Olympics should be relieved that the games haven’t been cancelled altogether – an outcome many critics would have cheered.
Most troubling, though, is the persistence of the Zika outbreak itself. A 2016 study led by a mathematician at the University of Miami shows that mosquito control should continue as the main focus of abatement efforts. It also “reveals that Zika is a complicated virus and sexual transmission increases the risk of infection and prolongs the outbreak,” according to the journal Scientific Reports.
Now that we know Zika can be transmitted sexually, we also know that the epidemic will continue to grow significantly before it can be contained and decelerated. Fortunately, many good studies like the University of Miami one are being conducted worldwide. The international World Health Organization (WHO) has taken the lead in monitoring and sharing information about Zika, while stateside the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stepped up in that role.
The Ebola virus claimed around 12,000 lives in 21st Century Africa before practically being eradicated from the continent in recent months. Though HIV/AIDS case numbers have declined every year since 2005, in 2010 alone it killed nearly 2 million people worldwide. In the Americas, there have been around 400,000 suspected Zika virus cases. Of those, 160,000 have occurred in Brazil.
My upcoming novel, ULTIMATE ERROR, is a science-based fictionalization of present-day existential threats to mankind.