Bioethics Blogs

Zika and the 2016 Games in Brazil

Noni E MacDonald describes the low risk for Zika infection during the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Brazil and urges visitors and supporters of the Games to help address the Zika epidemic.


Every four years the world eagerly turns the spotlight on the country hosting Olympic and Paralympic games. In anticipation, there is relentless news coverage on whether the venues will be ready, what world records might fall, and whether doping will be a problem. For the Brazil Games however, concerns about Zika risks have been added to the mix. Some strident voices have loudly called for the Games to be cancelled or moved. Sadly, many of these voices of doom and gloom failed to examine the evidence and weigh up the risk before offering their opinions.

Brazil is one of the countries reporting transmission of Zika virus by mosquitoes. This is the main route of transmission although sexual transmission also occurs and blood transfusion transmission may be possible. Zika appears to have a particular affinity for neural tissue and is now recognized as a significant cause of congenital abnormalities including microcephaly and of Guillian-Barré Syndrome.

Zika infection in pregnancy appears to be most devastating for the fetus if it occurs late in the first trimester and/or early in the second trimester – much like the timing for most damage with rubella infection in pregnancy. Similar to rubella, the severity of illness in the pregnant women does not predict the severity of damage in the fetus. Asymptomatic infection in the mother has been associated with severe microcephaly and/or major brain anomalies without microcephaly.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.