6 Apr 2016

No change in advice to Rio-bound New Zealanders

2:01 pm on 6 April 2016

Official advice to athletes or travellers going to the Rio Olympics in August will not change despite Brazil's Zika outbreak, the Health Ministry says.

But it is urging male athletes to make sure they practise safe sex for up to six months when they return home due to the threat of the virus.

zika mosquito

Photo: 123RF

The WHO said earlier this month that researchers around the world were now convinced Zika could cause the birth defect microcephaly as well as Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that could result in paralysis,

Acting director of public health Stewart Jessamine told MPs on Parliament's health committee the threat of the mosquito-borne virus was no different to any other infection.

He said the ministry would not be changing its official travel advice despite Brazil being at the centre of a current outbreak.

"So what advice would we give Olympians or travellers? It is no different to what it has been for the last 25 years, which is practise safe sex and stay away from mosquitos by wearing repellent and long clothes."

Dr Jessamine said the only thing added was that men should probably practice safe sex for three to six months after they return from Brazil. "That's the key bit of information," he said.

The ministry said there were now up to nine cases of sexually transmitted Zika confirmed.

Dr Jessamine said, while the sexual transmission aspect was interesting, it remained rare.

"We don't really fully understand the full duration of the carriage of the virus in men, especially in their sperm."

A Zika vaccine would be crucial to controlling the virus in future, he said.

"But we keep walking away from vector eradication and that I think, to use an old pun, that will turn around and bite us again."

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