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Rio Olympics Could Spark Global Zika ‘Catastrophe’, Experts Warn

May 13, 2016 03:19 AM EDT
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Rio de Janeiro
Brazil, the country most affected by the Zika outbreak, will be hosting the 2016 Olympics and is expecting 500,000 foreign visitors.
(Photo : Luiz Gadelha Jr./Flickr)

As the Zika outbreak spreads at an alarming rate in Brazil, a public health expert strongly urges to postpone or move the 2016 Olympic Games set to be held in Rio de Janeiro to prevent a "foreseeable global catastrophe".

University of Ottawa professor Amir Attaran said in a new article for the Harvard Public Health Review that the Zika virus has been underestimated by Brazilian health officials. If they will push through with the Games, the disease could easily spread around the world and infect other countries that might not be equipped enough to stop the virus.

"All it takes is one infected traveler... A few viral introductions of that kind, in a few countries, or maybe continents, would make a full-blown global disaster," Attaran said.

After being discovered in Brazil in May 2015, the Zika virus has spread across Latin America and has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization. And Rio de Janeiro, which is where the games are scheduled to be held, has the highest number of suspected cases of Zika among any states in the country.

The mosquito-borne virus has been shown to cause rare birth defects, which includes babies that are born with abnormally small heads and neurological problems.

The Games are scheduled to begin in less than three months, with the opening ceremony set August 25. Brazil will be expecting over 500,000 foreign visitors

According to the International Olympic Committee, there are currently no plans to postpone or move the Games to another location and that they are working closely with the Brazilian government and the WHO to monitory the situation very closely.

"We're confident as we've been advised by the experts that the situation will improve over the next three months," Dr. Richard Budgett of the IOC said.

Apart the Zika outbreak, Brazil is also struggling with a steep economic decline and an ongoing presidential impeachment attempt concerning the biggest corruption scandal in the country.

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