Zika Fears Prompt 150 Public Health Experts to Call for Olympics to Be Moved From Rio

PHOTO:Health workers spray insecticide to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that transmits the Zika virus under the bleachers of the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, which will be used for the Archery competition in the 2016 summer games. PlayLeo Correa/AP Photo
WATCH Dr. Fauci Says 'Forceful Preparation' Key to Combating Zika Spread

A group of 150 prominent scientists, doctors and medical ethicists have signed a letter calling for this summer's Olympic Games to be postponed or moved from Rio de Janeiro due to the ongoing Zika virus outbreak in Brazil.

Interested in ?

Add as an interest to stay up to date on the latest news, video, and analysis from ABC News.
Add Interest

In a letter directed to World Health Organization Director Dr. Margaret Chan, the group said that new findings about the Zika virus should result in the games being moved or postponed to safeguard the thousands of athletes, staff and reporters scheduled to attend the games.

"Currently, many athletes, delegations, and journalists are struggling with the decision of whether to participate in the Rio 2016 Games," the group wrote. "We agree with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommendation that workers should 'Consider delaying travel to areas with active Zika virus transmission'. If that advice were followed uniformly, no athlete would have to choose between risking disease and participating in a competition that many have trained for their whole lives."

The letter was initially signed by 125 experts, but an additional 25 signed on later today.

New information about the Zika virus was cited by the group in the letter as an additional reason to postpone or move the games. The disease has been found to cause the birth defect microcephaly in pregnant women and has also been linked to an immunological reaction called Guillain-Barré syndrome.

"That while Zika’s risk to any single individual is low, the risk to a population is undeniably high. Currently, Brazil’s government reports 120,000 probable Zika cases, and 1,300 confirmed cases of microcephaly (with another 3,300 under investigation), which is above the historical level of microcephaly," the group said.

The group of experts also pointed out that current mosquito-killing programs in Rio were ineffective and that when they looked at dengue fever, which is spread by the same mosquitoes that spread Zika virus, the infections were up markedly in 2016 compared to the previous two years.

The group also claimed the WHO had a conflict of interest due to a decades-long partnership with the International Olympic Committee and said previous statements by WHO officials have been "troubling."

"To prejudge that 'there's not going to be a lot of problems,' before reviewing this evidence [on Zika virus effects] is extremely inappropriate of WHO, and suggests that a change in leadership may be required to restore WHO's credibility," the group wrote.

The WHO and the International Olympic Committee did not immediately respond to ABC News' requests for comment.

Art Caplan, director of the NYU Division of Medical Ethics and co-author of the letter, told ABC News that the group was not alleging any wrongdoing by the WHO or IOC but wanted to bring up these issues to spark a dialogue about the risks involved and encourage health officials unrelated to the Olympics to weigh in.

"What we’re really focused on is can we have transparent, open, frank, televised, out-in-the-open discussion with experts" unconnected to the Olympics, Caplan said. "We think WHO is close to the IOC. ... They work together a lot."

The big fear, Caplan said, is that the giant sporting event will enable the transmission of the virus through infected travelers to other parts of the globe that have yet to be affected by the disease.

"We’re worried about bringing the mosquito back to places it isn’t, like India," Caplan aid. "You have people who will be infected and ... there are people literally coming from everywhere."

Earlier this month, the director of the WHO addressed Zika virus fears amid the Olympics, saying the WHO would not call for the games to be moved but that they were using a "targeted approach" to decrease transmission and warning those most at risk not to visit the country.

"I do share the concern of some athletes and travelers and, as I said, it is very much an individual decision," Chan said at the time. "The role of WHO is to provide them with support so they can make the right decision."

Comments