Researchers to Monitor Zika Virus in Olympic Athletes

monitor health
Science & Medicine

With the Olympics taking place in Brazil, one of the hotbeds for Zika activity, researchers will be monitoring exposure on a small sample of Olympic and Paralympic athletes participating in the games as well as staff members accompanying them. Funded by NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the study hopes to help researchers understand why some people are infected with Zika, while others are not, in addition to the various effects that take hold in different people’s bodies.

Athletes participating in the study will be monitored for one year after their participation in the Olympic games. They hope to find risk factors for infection, where the virus lives in the body and how long it can stay inside of it. Researchers are aware that the virus can sometimes live inside parts of the body, such as saliva or sexual secretions, without actually presenting itself in the blood.

Because Zika doesn’t typically cause symptoms in adults, the 1,000 people participating in the study will have to be routinely tested over the course of the year to see if they are infected. They will also fill out health questionnaires about their lives and health before and after the games. [1]

Catherine Y. Spong of NICHD stated of the study:

“Zika virus infection poses many unknown risks, especially to those of reproductive age. Monitoring the health and reproductive outcomes of members of the U.S. Olympic team offers a unique opportunity to answer important questions and help address an ongoing public health emergency.” [2]

Of those participating, almost one third have stated that they or their partner plan to become pregnant within the next year. This is especially concerning, as it is known that the Zika virus can cause severe cognitive disabilities and delays if they are born to an infected mother.

Microcephaly, a disorder in which the child’s head is smaller than normal, is associated with Zika, however researchers have also found that children born with a regular-sized head may also experience cognitive delays and dysfunction.

Around 3,000 athletes and staff members for the United States Olympic Team plan to attend the games in Rio de Janeiro.