Zika virus scare: Brazil asks pregnant women to stay away from Rio Olympics

Brasilia: Brazil warned pregnant women on Monday to stay away from the Summer Olympics after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared an international emergency over the Zika virus, blamed for causing a surge in brain-damaged babies.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff speaks as she attends a ministerial meeting to discuss new measures to combat the proliferation of Zika virus in Brazil. PIC/AFP
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff speaks as she attends a ministerial meeting to discuss new measures to combat the proliferation of Zika virus in Brazil. Pic/AFP

WHO said that a rise in cases of microcephaly — in which babies are born with an abnormally small head — was likely caused by the mosquito-borne virus, and declared the situation a "public health emergency of international concern." That prompted an unprecedented warning from Brazil, just six months from the Olympics opening ceremony on August 5 in Rio de Janeiro.

"The risk, which I would say is serious, is for pregnant women. It is clearly not advisable for you (to travel to the Games) because you don’t want to take that risk," said President Dilma Rousseff's chief of staff, Jaques Wagner. Wagner sought to downplay fears for Olympic athletes and fans who are not expectant mothers. "I understand that no one needs to be afraid if you are not pregnant," he said.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said WHO’s declaration raises  awareness and provides, "more resources to fight the virus." The Games, he said, "will also take place in winter time in Brazil and this is not the preferred breeding time for mosquitoes."             

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