US Olympians at Rio 2016 were not infected with Zika

A recent study, led by the University of Utah Health (UT, USA), was the first to examine a large cohort for viruses that cause tropical, mosquito-borne infectious diseases, discovering that many US athletes and staff were not infected with Zika during the 2016 Olympic games but in fact had signs of other infections such as dengue and chikungunya.

The results, which were presented at IDWeek, a national infectious disease conference held in San Diego, CA, USA (4–8 October), demonstrated that the frenzy over Zika may have been detrimental to the diagnosis of other long-standing public health risks. Fortunately, the study’s investigators claim none of the infected travellers became seriously ill.

“Everyone was concentrating on Zika and ignoring that there could be other infections caused by mosquito bites. We did not expect to find so many with these other infections,” explained Krow Ampofo, University of Utah health specialist and ID week presenter. “That is one of the reasons why we think that being vigilant about monitoring for infectious diseases after travel to at-risk areas is so important.”

Of the estimated 2,000 travelers, just under half (950) enrolled in the study and a total of 457 provided blood samples post-Rio 2016.

The results unveiled that a total of 32 individuals (7%) had contracted infection with an arbovirus while abroad. Of these individuals 27 had West Nile Virus, three had chikungunya and two had dengue.

Those who tested positive were sent letters explaining their results and were recommended to consult with their health care provider.

Out of the 12 individuals that tested positive and completed post-travel surveys, only 3 reported having symptoms including a rash and body aches of which developed 2 weeks upon return and resolved shortly after.

Scientists found no signs of Zika in any of the blood samples, and this finding is further supported by other sources that have confirmed that no Zika cases were reported during the Rio Olympics.

“We were thrilled that there were no cases of Zika,” reported the lead investigator Carrie Byington, who started the study while at University of Utah Health but currently works for Texas A&M Health Science Center (TX, USA). “One of the reasons we think that post travel diagnostics is really important is because multiple things can cause a similar picture and it’s important to know what you had.”

“We all had our Hollywood sunglasses on, and they blinded us to other possibilities,” stated Marc Couturier, who led the blood sample testing at ARUP Laboratories (UT, USA). “We can’t forget that West Nile Virus has been around for a while, and is still here.”

Sources: Ampofo K. Arboviral infections following the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic games in a cohort of US athletes and support staff, IDWeek 2017, San Diego, CA, USA 4–8 October 2017, oral abstract (#2486);


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