Every day, more news about Rio’s woes regarding the upcoming Olympics is published online. It’s become clear that going to the games, as an athlete or a spectator, just might be hazardous to your health.
The dangers include a raging Zika epidemic, water contamination, air pollution, and security concerns. Despite the calls to cancel the Olympics for these reasons, Brazil and the International Olympic Committee say the show must go on. What precautions, then, should be taken by the competitors and tourists to stay safe and healthy?
1. ZIKA VIRUS
As the CDC learns more about the Zika virus, obviously a mutated version of the original, there are more and more concerns: More species of mosquitoes that might carry it, more types of sexually activity that could spread it, and the unknown long-term developmental effects on infected infants, even those that are born appearing normal. Athletes and tourists should:
• Stay indoors whenever possible
• Use mosquito repellent whenever outside or in any areas without screens.
• Avoid areas with standing water
• Wear long pants and sleeves
• Treat clothing with permethrin, a long-lasting pesticide
• Use pesticide-treated bed netting if not staying in air-conditioned hotels
• Use condoms (standard issue for this year’s athletes) or abstain from sex
2. OTHER DISEASES
Zika virus isn’t the only infection that visitors to Brazil should be concerned about. Malaria, Yellow Fever, Hepatitis A and B, Dengue, and Typhoid fever are some of the other diseases found in the region. Some of these are spread by mosquitoes, others by food and water contamination, and some by sexual activity.
Vaccines exist for a number of these issues, such as Hepatitis and Yellow Fever. Others can be prevented by medications, such as malaria. Every athlete and visitor To Brazil should contact their physician to see what precautions are appropriate for the trip.
3. WATER CONTAMINATION
The waters of Guanabara Bay and other venues for sailors, kayakers, canoers, and open-water swimmers in the Rio Olympics are notoriously filthy due to raw sewage that is constantly released into them. Bacterial and viral counts performed by researchers, including a study commissioned by the Associated Press, found quantities that might be considered a natural disaster in the U.S. The adjective used for the amount of viruses was “astronomical”.
The old saying “Don’t drink the water” goes double, no, triple for your trip to the Rio Games. It’s thought that drinking just three teaspoons of the water has a 99 per cent chance of causing an infection. Dr. Valerie Harwood of the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of South Florida, goes as far to say “Don’t put your head under water.”
Among the germs is rotavirus, the most common cause of gastroenteritis. In last year’s Junior Rowing Championships, a dozen U.S. team members got sick.
This year’s team will be protected with a newly-designed anti-microbial training suit. If you’re just an average tourist at the beach, however, even wet sand has high levels of microbes.
Drink only bottled water and, if you’re going into the water, put that bottle in a plastic bag first. The outside of the bottle could become contaminated if it becomes wet. Have hand sanitizers available and wash wet clothing. Don’t forget to use bottled water when brushing your teeth. Ask for your drinks with “no ice”.
4. AIR POLLUTION
The air quality in Rio isn’t as bad as it was in the Beijing Summer Games, but it’s unacceptable by U.S. standards and much worse than any other Olympics. Particulate matter from the many vehicles in the city is often at dangerously high levels, and responsible for more deaths there than the water.
When you’re not in an air-conditioned building, you might consider wearing a face mask to avoid the pollutants. If you’re a Westerner, you might not be accustomed to this practice, but it’s common in many Asian countries.
5. SECURITY ISSUES
A striking scene recently greeted arrivals to Rio’s airport: A group of law enforcement officers with a sign that read “Welcome to Hell, whoever comes to Rio De Janeiro will not be safe.” Indeed, Rio de Janeiro is a hotbed of crime, with entire favelas (low-income neighborhoods) completely under the control of organized gangs. Brazil’s financial woes have caused funding problems for local police, although the city says that it’s added much more security for the Games.
Despite this, be situationally aware. That means keeping an eye on unusual activity or individuals not acting normally. You might consider carrying a small flashlight; some have a strobe function that emits a bright flashing light which might discourage the opportunistic criminal. In any case, have a plan of action in case of trouble.
• Avoid travel at night
• Keep your hotel room locked
• Don’t wear fine jewelry
• Avoid risky areas
• Always travel with a companion
• Carry copies, but not originals, of important documents when you travel outside
Still going to the Olympics? Some might say that you’ll never have to prove your courage in any other way, but with a few precautions, you can stay healthy and safe.
Joe Alton, MD
We’re learning more about Zika virus every day. Check out Joe Alton, MD’s book “The Zika Virus Handbook” for the important information you need to keep your family healthy