By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With only two months to go before the start of the 2016 Olympics, on Tuesday (June 7th), health officials for the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee released welcome news indicating that the cases of people infected by the Zika virus have dropped significantly in recent weeks. According to computer models cited by the committee, by the Games’ start, incidents of Zika should be close to zero.
In Tuesday’s press conference, Rio 2016 health officials revealed that in recent weeks Zika incidences have taken a sharp turn for the better. “Zika numbers started declining rapidly in April,” said Rio 2016 chief medical officer João Grangeiro.
In the press conference, health officials relied on computer models published by the Cambridge University Press showing that the rate of decline is so great that by the start of the Olympics on August 5th, Zika incidences will have dropped to almost zero, with perhaps one or two incidents occurring during the three-week event.
Health officials credit several factors to the decline, including the weather. The Zika virus is transmitted by the aedes aegypti mosquito, which also carries the Dengue virus. By tracking the fall of Dengue in Rio during the winter months of July to September, Grangeiro says we can expect the same drop in Zika incidents. “The cooler and drier weather,” Grangeiro added, “will reduce mosquito populations, lowering the risk of mosquito-borne infections.”
In addition to the advantageous weather conditions, Olympic officials are aggressively pursuing a virus-free Olympics. Each venue undergoes daily inspections for stagnant water where mosquitos breed, and at some sites, these inspections occur several times daily. Of course, the federal government has also been using the military to perform similar inspections in various neighborhoods and area throughout the country.
These factors combined can be credited with the virus’s decline in not only Rio de Janeiro, but in Manaus, Belo Horizonte, Sao Paulo, Brasilia and Salvador. In addition, the Olympics have held 44 test events so far dating back to August 2014. Since that time, no incidents of Zika have been reported in the 7,000 athletes, 8,000 volunteers and 2,000 staff who were involved in those events.
Rio 2016 executive communications director Mario Andrada told journalists, “Our mission is to make sure that all athletes find Rio de Janeiro to be a safe city for competing and celebrating.”
Only a few short months ago, the surge of cases in Brazil from this mosquito borne virus was enough to warrant the government calling in the military to help combat its proliferation. Brazilian scientists linked the Zika virus to causing microcephaly in newborns and the World Health Organization (WHO) considered the outbreak a global emergency.
The Zika virus was first detected in Africa in the 1940s but was relatively unknown in the Americas until last year when there was a surge in reported cases, mostly in the Northeast of Brazil.
Since then, the Zika virus has been linked to the increased amount of babies born with microcephaly, a condition characterized by abnormal smallness of the head and incomplete brain development.