Rio and the Zika virus: Should you be worried?

Lucy E Cousins
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Rio and the Zika virus: Should you be worried?

This is how to prepare for your visit to the Olympic city.

In four short months, an estimated half a million sports-lovers will descend on Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. If you’re one of them, chances are you’ve got a few questions about the Zika virus and how it might affect you. Here’s everything that you need to know.

RELATED: Your complete guide to Rio ahead of the Olympics

Is the Zika virus new?

No, this mosquito-born illness was actually first reported in 1947 in Uganda, and since then there’ve been isolated outbreaks in countries that straddle the equator. The current strain appeared in northeast Brazil in April 2015 and has now spread to over 30 countries, as reported by Smartraveller, due to the ease of infection, warm temperatures and the reality of modern travel.

How do I get it and what are the symptoms?

The main way is via a bite from a mosquito (the Aedes kind), and there have been some reports of the virus being transmitted sexually. According to the Department of Health the symptoms usually only last around 2-7 days and can include fever, joint and muscle pain, headaches and conjunctivitis.

Surprisingly, only one in five people will actually show signs of being infected, meaning that most people won’t even know if they’ve had it.

Why is everyone so worried?

Well, one reason is that the Aedes mosquito is known for biting during daytime hours (as opposed to most other mosquitos), and it can multiply in pools of water as small as a bottle top.

There is also growing concern that the Zika virus can be linked to an increase in Guillain-Barré syndrome – a rare neurological disorder that can sometimes lead to paralysis and death. The main issue, however, is that the affected regions have seen a high increase in the cases of microcephaly in babies, which causes birth defects (namely a smaller than usual head and intellectual deficiencies). Although, the World Health Organisation has said that "more investigation is needed to better understand the relationship [between the virus and this disease]", most government advisory bodies (including Australia’s) have issued a 'high degree of caution' travel warning for Brazil.

What if I am if I’m pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant?

Despite the lack of wide-reaching studies, the USA’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently confirmed the link between Zika virus and microcephaly. And as such, our own Department of Health has recommended that women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant in the near future, delay their travel to areas with active outbreaks of Zika, including Brazil. Men are also advised to use condoms for three months after they’ve been infected, as there is a possibility that the Zika virus could be transmitted sexually.

RELATED: Zika Not Deterring Older Travellers, Destination Weddings

What is Brazil doing to combat the epidemic?

The Brazilian government has been quick to act on the epidemic in the northeast of the country, and in Rio there are special squads responsible for fumigation of the city, including the Olympic village. Hopefully this kind of attention will continue in the light of the political problems right now.

What can I do to prevent being infected?

Try to follow the same advice as for avoiding Dengue fever and mosquitos in tropical areas:

  • Wear light-colours long pants and shirts, even during the daytime.
  • Stock up on insect repellant that contains DEET or picaridin, apply regularly.
  • When using sunscreen and repellant, always apply repellant last.
  • Look for permethrin-treated gear and clothes where possible (tents, sleeping sheets, pants, boots). Some camping shops sell a permethrin wash for your clothes.
  • Aim to sleep in rooms that have screens, bed nets and/or air conditioning.

For more updates on this information, check www.smarttraveller.gov.au