Expert Warns Olympics Should Not Go on to Avoid Zika ‘Health Disaster’

Report calls for postponing, relocating or canceling 2016 Brazilian event.

ByABC News
May 12, 2016, 12:23 PM

— -- The 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil could cause a "full-blown public health disaster” because of the Zika virus unless the event is postponed, relocated or canceled, according to a new report published in the Harvard Public Review.

Dr. Richard E. Besser, ABC News's chief health and medical editor, highlighted five things that report author Amir Attaran identifies in defense of such a drastic recommendation: Rio's proximity to the disease; the dangers associated with this particular strain; the increase in tourism that will risk spreading the Zika virus to other countries; the short amount of time health officials will have to develop control measures; and, finally, what Attaran calls the irresponsibility in placing sports above public health.

"As a public health person," Besser said, "the last thing you want during an outbreak is a lot of people coming in because it will spread it faster."

Besser went on to cast doubt on the likelihood that Attaran's recommendations would be followed, and suggested that pregnant women not attend the games. Other spectators, he said, should take precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

Attaran, a professor in the School of Public Health and the School of Law at the University of Ottawa in Canada, claimed in his commentary that the Zika infection is “more dangerous, and more extensive” than scientists had recently believed. So he advises postponing, relocating or canceling the games.

Brazil is typically considered Zika’s “ground zero,” and the disease causes cases of severe birth defects in infants, as well as high fever and muscle pain in adults.

Attran’s study was published earlier this week. The World Health Organization is expected to release a statement advising travel precautions related to the Olympic Games soon.