30 May 2016

Olympics should proceed despite Zika threat - NZ expert

1:14 pm on 30 May 2016

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is right to advise pushing forward with the Rio Olympics despite the Zika virus, a disease expert says.

Zika mosquito

Mosquitos carry the Zika virus which has been linked with birth defects. Photo: 123RF

More than 150 international doctors, scientists and researchers have penned an open letter to the organisation, saying the games should be delayed or shifted.

But WHO officials say risk assessment plans are in place, and the games can begin on time in 10 weeks.

Otago University professor of public health Michael Baker said although the concern was warranted, the WHO has taken an even-handed approach.

"The organisations that have to balance risk - that's WHO, the USCDC (US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention), European Centre for Disease Control - say on balance this is a manageable risk."

He said millions of travellers already pass through Rio every year, and the attention on the Olympics has helped highlight public safety precautions.

There have never been so many precautions taken over the risks of viral infections, Professor Baker said.

The Zika outbreak began in Brazil a year ago, but now more than 60 countries and territories have continuing transmission.

The virus is thought to cause serious birth defects, and is spread by mosquitoes and also through sexual contact.

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