How Are Athletes Protecting Against the Zika Virus

Washington Post Video Zika Virus
Click on image to watch video on how an explanation of how the Zika Virus is transmitted.


We’re a little less than a month away and the intense fear of the zika-virus has diminished over the past few months. Part of the reason is that mosquitos, which transmit the zika-virus to humans, flourish in hot weather, and Brazil is in its cool season in August.

Still, athletes and National Olympic committees are taking measures where they can. I’ve noted three basic strategies: protection, abstention and just-in-case measures.

  • Protection: The US Olympic Committee will be issuing long-sleeved shirts and long pants to their athletes, as well as a six-months supply of condoms post Olympics as the virus can be transmitted through sexual fluids. The Australian Olympic Committee is providing their athletes with condoms specially treated with an anti-viral coating. The Korean Olympic Committee is not only providing long-sleeved shirts and long pants to their athletes, they are infusing the fabrics with mosquito repellent. To ensure everyone in Rio has mosquito repellent, Rio’s Olympic Organizing Committee just signed up SC Johnson as an official Olympic sponsor, which means that thousands of bottoles of the mosquito repellent OFF! Will be distributed to athletes, staff and volunteers.
  • Abstention: Despite calls by a prominent Canadian doctor to postpone the Rio Olympics, the World Health Organization did not endorse a ban, although they are strongly recommending pregnant women from travelling to zika-infested areas like Brazil, as well as to abstain from sex for at least 8 weeks after returning from zika-infested areas. If they do not experience such symptoms as rash, fever, arthralgia, myalgia or conjunctivitis after 8 weeks, they are likely uninfected. A handful of athletes have withdrawn for the Rio Olympics citing concerns regarding the zika virus, including the top four golfers in the world: #1 Jason Day of Australia, #2 Dustin Johnson of the US, #3 Jordan Spieth of the US, and #4 Rory McIlroy of Ireland, among others.
  • Just-in-Case Sperm Freezing: 2012 London Games long jump gold medalist Greg Rutherford initially expressed the strong possibility of not going to the Rio Games. But now that Rutherford has frozen his sperm, and has ensured the possibility of having children without the risk of zika-infection, he is now re-considering his participation. Spanish NBA star, Pau Gasol, is also considering freezing his sperm in order to have a greater of peace of mind if going to Rio.
Rio Temperatures
Average temperatures in Rio de Janeiro over 12 months

In the end, for the majority of the athletes, many athletes are going because the cool weather means a significant drop in risk. According to the New York Times, three-time gold medalist beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings already participated in a tournament in Rio in March and her precautions were effective. “I took my essential oils, I’m going to bring my Honest bug repellent, and I escaped all mosquito bites until the very last day. And I came home, and I didn’t get Zika.”

With the Rio Olympics in August in the middle of the Brazilian winter, she feels confident that the zika virus will not be a threat.

What a lot of athletes may also privately admit is that they are not going to let a tiny mosquito deny them a chance at glory after years of grueling training.