Australian Olympic Team to Combat Zika by Handing Out Anti-Viral Condoms Ahead of Rio Games

The condoms are treated with anti-viral gel.

ByABC News
May 16, 2016, 1:48 PM

— -- The fight against the Zika virus is going beyond bug spray as the Australian Olympic Committee announced today that special anti-viral condoms will be given to athletes in order to curb the spread of the Zika virus.

Condoms containing Vivagel, an antiviral agent, will be distributed in the hopes of diminishing the chances of the Zika virus infecting athletes, team officials said in a statement today.

While the disease is primarily spread through mosquitoes, it has been found to also be spread through sexual contact and both the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommend using barrier contraception after being in areas where the virus is spreading to help stem infecting others, especially women who are pregnant. Neither agency has advised using a condom with an anti-viral treatment.

“The health and wellbeing of the Team comes first and our association with Starpharma will provide extra protection for everyone on the Team, and is a common sense approach to a very serious problem we are facing in Rio," Chief of the Mission of the 2016 Australian Olympic Team Kitty Chiller in a statement today.

The condoms have already been found in laboratory settings to inactivate HIV, genital herpes and the human papillomavirus, according to Starpharma, the pharmaceutical company that manufactures Vivagel. The company also said they gel has shown to provide protection against the Zika virus in laboratory studies.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt Medical Center, said that while the anti-viral component of these condoms may seem to be helpful, they have yet to be proven to add extra protection in a real-world setting.

"I think every public health person would say, 'That’s nice.' But the important thing is to use the condom each and every time for the recommended period," to prevent infection, Schaffner told ABC News today.

Concerns about the spread of Zika virus remain just weeks before the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games are set to begin. The virus often causes mild reactions, including fever, pink eye and rash but has been linked to severe birth defects, including microcephaly characterized by an abnormally small brain and head. Additionally, health officials are investigating if a rare immunological reaction called Guillain Barre syndrome is linked to the virus.

The WHO issued warnings last week that people who are pregnant should not go the Olympic games and people who do go should abstain from sex or use a condom for at least four weeks after they return from the area.