The Australian Olympic Committee has warned athletes who might be pregnant during the Rio Games to reconsider the infection risk of flying to Brazil, as the US President pleaded for more work on a vaccine.
The Australian committee confirmed on Wednesday it was closely monitoring the situation, hours before a new case of Zika was confirmed in Europe.
Denmark reported its first case of the mosquito-borne virus on Wednesday (AEDT) — a male who had recently travelled to Central and South America. Local health officials said there was no reason to believe the infection would spread to Danish mosquito populations.
The Australian Olympic Committee said all females of child-bearing age, not just athletes, should be aware of the risks of Zika infection during pregnancy, which has been blamed for a record number of birth defects in Brazil.
“Following the recently updated DFAT guidelines, any team members who are pregnant at the time of the Games need to consider the risks very carefully before deciding whether to proceed with travel to Brazil,” the committee said in a statement given to News Corp.
Approximately 4000 cases of microcephaly, which shrinks and deforms the brain and skulls of babies, have been reported in Brazil,
US President Barack Obama called for faster research on the virus, for which there is no vaccine. Only the symptoms of Zika can be currently treated, and there is no known way of preventing birth defects save for mosquito bite prevention.
Mr Obama met with health experts at the White House on Wednesday, where he reportedly urged action after being fully briefed.
“The President emphasised the need to accelerate research efforts to make available better diagnostic tests, to develop vaccines and therapeutics, and to ensure that all Americans have information about the Zika virus and steps they can take to better protect themselves from infection,” the White House said in a statement.
Both the US and Australia have issued updated travel warnings to their citizens.
Zika is confirmed or suspected in the US Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Martin, Samoa, Suriname and Venezuela.
Zika infections have been reported in travellers returning to Australia, Westmead Hospital’s Professor Dominic Dwyer confirmed to the ABC.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) predicted this week the virus will spread rapidly beyond Brazil to all countries in the Americas except Canada and Chile.
The 2016 Olympic Games will be held in the Brazilian capital Rio de Janeiro from August 5 to 21.