Rachel Smalley is a radio host for Newstalk ZB. Listen to her between 5am and 6am every weekday morning.

Opinion divided over postponing Olympics

In August millions of tourists and athletes will descend on Rio for the Olympic Games, despite the health threat the Zika virus poses - (AP Photo/Felipe Dana) SUN 10Apr16 - Rio boasts some spectacula
In August millions of tourists and athletes will descend on Rio for the Olympic Games, despite the health threat the Zika virus poses - (AP Photo/Felipe Dana) SUN 10Apr16 - Rio boasts some spectacula

You may have heard over the weekend that 150 international doctors, scientists and researchers have written an open letter to the World Health Organisation, urging them to move or delay the Rio Olympics in August.

The problem? The Zika virus.

They say it's unethical and irresponsible to host the games in Rio -- the threat to public health is too great, they say.

The WHO has rejected those calls saying moving or delaying the Olympics would not 'significantly alter' the spread of Zika.

It's linked to serious birth defects, chiefly micro-encephalitis.

Between February and April this year Brazil's health ministry registered 91,387 likely cases of the Zika virus. Almost 5000 babies have been born with abnormally small heads.

The virus, in some adults, can be fatal.

And so in August around half a million people will head to Rio for the games -- athletes, officials, tourists.

How is Zika spread?

By a mosquito, but unlike malaria which is mostly spread at night and so you can counter it to a degree with nets over your bed, Zika is spread by a mosquito that is active during the day, so there is no protection really.

Also, there have been reports that Zika has been spread by sexual transmission.

The official advice for men is to wear a condom for 28 days after returning from Brazil, or if they've shown symptoms of a virus, they should wear a condom for six months.

The feasibility of moving or delaying the Olympic games -- well, it's just not feasible, is it?

In this Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016 file photo, a health workers stands in the Sambadrome spraying insecticide to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits the Zika virus in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In this Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016 file photo, a health workers stands in the Sambadrome spraying insecticide to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits the Zika virus in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Athletes have targeted this event for four years and all of their preparations have been built around Rio in August in 2016.

There are some 500,000 visitors who've organised all of their travel around this date.

The sheer scale of disruption would be massive.

Yet, at what cost, potentially, to public health, and who do you believe?

If the games aren't delayed or moved, the professors and scientists -- they're from they likes of Oxford University, Yale, Harvard -- say we're in danger of hosting what will become "The Olympics of brain damage".

That's a big call, isn't it?

The challenge you face is that it's a global event and athletes and tourists will be coming from far-flung countries that would be ill-equipped to deal with a Zika outbreak -- parts of Asia, much of Africa. Brazil couldn't cope with a Zika outbreak, and its health system is superior to many of the countries who'll be represented in Rio.

So what do you do?

Do you stand back and question whether commercial interests are over-ruling what is a very real threat to public health -- or do you box on?

It's a difficult one because on an issue like this, you have to rely on expert opinion, and yet the experts, it seems, can't agree.

- NZ Herald

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