The Road to Rio: Vika and vaccinations

As our GB athletes learn whether they have qualified for this summer’s Rio Olympics, Professor Cathy Speed, Chief Medical Officer to the GB Badminton team, explains how they will be preparing for the Games in the following weeks and months.

The Rio experience

Obviously, climate and culture will be vastly different in Brazil to the UK, so some of the preparation will be dedicated to informing the athletes as to what they can expect in Rio, covering the environment, facilities, timetables and even Zika.

The Zika virus presents as a fever and a rash, often accompanied with joint pain and conjunctivitis, and it can last several weeks, but most sufferers do not require hospital treatment. The panic over Zika stems from its link to birth defects when pregnant women are exposed to the virus.

Zika and the Olympics

Since the World Health Organisation declared the Zika virus a global public emergency, there has obviously been much apprehension about how it will affect our athletes and the support staff that will be travelling with them.

There is no vaccination for the Zika virus, so advice is based on prevention. Athletes are encouraged to use mosquito repellent liberally as soon as they land in Rio and mosquito nets will be provided. The International Olympic Committee are inspecting venues now and will continue to do so through the Games to ensure that there are no stagnant pools of water present, which are the breeding ground of mosquitos.

August is also midway through Brazil’s winter season so the climate will be dryer and cooler, than in recent months, which will hopefully ease the problem.

Other countries are tackling the Zika problem in different ways. The use of condoms to minimise the spread of Zika through sexual activity has been advised by the World Health Organisation and there will be free dispensing machines throughout the Olympic village. The Australian Olympic Committee has taken it one stage further and is providing its athletes with ‘dual protection’ condoms which claim to be Zika virus-proof.

South Korea, on the other hand, has issued its national team with uniforms featuring long trousers and long-sleeved shirts, all of which have been infused with insect repellent

Zika is not the only mosquito-borne disease that athletes have to protect against. Although there is no vaccination for Zika, there is one for Yellow Fever, which is prevalent in many parts of Brazil. Our athletes will have their vaccinations pre-Games for travelling to Brazil by the end of June, and these are timetabled so that any minor side effects do not interfere with preparations. Many will get anxious about this but adverse effects are very rare.

However, it’s not just the athletes that are worrying about the Zika virus, as it is estimated that more than 600,000 people will travel to Brazil this August to watch the Rio Olympics. Advice from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention includes avoiding mosquito bites by covering up arms and legs and using insect repellants. At night, it is important to use a mosquito net and screen and crank up the air conditioning.