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Zika virus won't affect Rio Olympics, insists Brazil officials

Rio de Janeiro: Brazil has no plans to postpone or relocate this year's Summer Olympic Games, despite an open letter from 150 international experts asking that it do so, officials here said on Saturday.

In a statement, the nation’s health ministry said it would continue to follow the guidance of the World Health Organization (WHO), which has deemed the risk of Zika infection in the month of August — the middle of winter in Brazil — to be “minimal.”

Officials with Rio’s Olympic organizing committee, meanwhile, were quoted by the O Globo newspaper as saying that the Games would continue on track. Friday’s letter from 150 doctors, scientists and researchers disagreed with that assessment, warning that it would be “irresponsible” and “unethical” to hold the Games in Rio, the second most affected city in Brazil by the Zika crisis.

"Our greater concern is for global health. The Brazilian strain of Zika virus harms health in ways that science has not observed before," said the letter, signed by experts in the United States, Britain, Canada, Norway, the Philippines, Japan, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey and Lebanon, among others.

Zika can cause birth defects, including a devastating syndrome known as microcephaly in which babies are born with unusually small heads and brains.

Nearly 1,300 babies have been born in Brazil with the irreversible defect since the mosquito-borne Zika began circulating there last year.

While saying it is safe for most people attending the Olympic Games, the WHO earlier this month urged those traveling to Brazil to take precautions against mosquito bites.

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