Q: Zika has been linked to birth defects in pregnant women, and should be avoided by anyone who might be pregnant, but what are its effects on others? Should men and nonpregnant women with plans to attend the Summer Games be concerned?
A: Everyone should be concerned about Zika. In addition to birth defects in pregnant women, Zika has also been associated with an increase in the neurological disease Guillain-Barre Syndrome in adults, which can cause life-long neurological problems and paralysis. While it is a rare complication of Zika infection, it is a possibility.
In addition, men who become infected with Zika can pass the virus on to their sexual partners for several weeks after they recover, and if those women are pregnant or become pregnant, that could lead to birth defects. The CDC advises men to practice safe sex for six weeks after they return from an area with Zika virus or for the duration of their partner's pregnancy.
Q: What measures is Brazil taking to stop the spread of the Zika virus? Will they be adequate to contain the disease during the Olympics?
A: The primary means of controlling the spread of Zika is to reduce the breeding of the Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries the virus. This virus cannot be transmitted between people directly, so reducing the number of mosquitos should greatly reduce the risk of virus transmission. The Brazilian government is advising residents to reduce pools of water that might serve as mosquito breeding ground, as Aedes mosquitoes in particular like to live close to humans and can breed in small containers of water. They are also using insecticides to kill the mosquitos directly. Hopefully this will keep the numbers of mosquitos low enough to prevent spread of the Zika virus.
Q: Spectators from around the world will attend the Olympics, and some of them could contract the virus. Is there a risk of the Olympics creating a Zika pandemic?
A: Some scientists believe the Olympics will increase the spread of Zika around the globe to areas where it is not already found and recommended that the Olympics be postponed or moved to another country. Others have noted that it will be winter in Rio de Janeiro when the Olympics are taking place, which will decrease the mosquito population. In addition, in the areas of Brazil that have been heavily hit by Zika, many people have already been infected with Zika and are immune to the virus, making it harder for it to be spread to new mosquitos. Together they believe this will reduce the risk significantly. I don't know which side is correct, but it is clear that the risk of infection is lower now than it was last winter, when the epidemic was at its height.
Q: What can those going to the Olympics do to protect themselves from infection?
A: Anything that prevents being bitten by a mosquito — including staying inside, using insect repellent containing 10 to 30 percent DEET, and wearing long sleeves and pants. Aedes mosquitos are mostly active during the day, so staying inside at dawn and dusk in particular will reduce mosquito bites.