Simon Plumb is a journalist for the Herald on Sunday

Olympics staffer cites Zika risk for pulling out of team

A member of New Zealand's Olympic team has pulled out of Rio 2016 fearing the Zika outbreak. Photo / AP
A member of New Zealand's Olympic team has pulled out of Rio 2016 fearing the Zika outbreak. Photo / AP

A member of New Zealand's Olympic team has pulled out of Rio 2016 fearing the Zika outbreak.

The New Zealand Olympic Committee confirmed a Kiwi support staffer has withdrawn for "family planning reasons".

The staff member has not been identified.

News of the withdrawal comes two weeks after Kiwi middle distance runner Angie Petty, 24, said she was concerned by the outbreak and might scrap her Olympic dream if the situation escalates.

"I love my running but my family is more important to me," the World University Games champion wrote in a blog.

"If there was a high risk that the virus could stay in your system for many years and affect your babies ... then I wouldn't want to travel, which is a big statement for me to make as I have dreamed of competing in the Olympics since I was little."

The mosquito-borne virus, which can also be sexually transmitted, is linked to severe birth defects.

With the recent outbreak's origins traced to Brazil - host nation of August's Games - the issue was last month branded an emergency of global concern by the World Health Organisation.

This week the number of New Zealanders confirmed to have contracted Zika in the year to date rose to 73. The disease continues to spread through Latin America, Africa, southern Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands.

The NZOC is in regular contact with the Ministry of Health on how to stop athletes and other team members contracting the disease, including handing out insect repellent and mosquito nets for beds.

However, while the ministry says it is prepared for an outbreak in this country through the National Health Emergency Plan, it admits transmission risks are still not fully understood.

"The risk of Zika virus being spread by means other than mosquito bites is still unclear," Dr Stewart Jessamine, acting director of public health said.

Jessamine said New Zealand's ports and airports are being monitored for early detection of exotic mosquitoes.

- Herald on Sunday

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