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IOC urges vigilance against Zika virus

(Reuters) - The International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Friday assured teams traveling to August’s Rio Olympics the Games would be safe from the Zika virus, but urged visitors to carefully protect themselves while in the region.

A municipal worker stands next to a banner that reads, "Rio Carnival 2016" before spraying insecticide at Sambodrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, January 26, 2016. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

The IOC offered advice to minimize the risk of infection from the virus, transferred by mosquitoes, and said travelers to Brazil should consult their national health authorities.

Recommendations included using mosquito repellent and wearing long-sleeved shirts and trousers. Women who may be pregnant have been urged to discuss the trip with their health care provider.

“The IOC remains in close contact with the WHO (World Health Organisation) to ensure that we have access to the most up-to-date information and guidance, from now through to Games time,” the IOC’s medical commission said.

“At the same time, National Olympic Committees should consult with their national health authorities to get advice and guidance,” it said in its note to NOCs and international sports federations.

The Zika virus, spreading fast across South and Central America, has been clinically linked to a fetal deformation known as microcephaly, in which infants are born with abnormally small heads and brains.

The virus, a close cousin of dengue and chikungunya, causes rash, mild fever and red eyes. Some 80 percent of those infected typically do not have symptoms, making it difficult for pregnant women to determine if they have the virus. No vaccine or treatment is currently available.

Much of the effort against the illness focuses on protecting people from mosquito bites and reducing mosquito populations.

Some 10,000 athletes will be competing at the Aug. 5-21 Games with tens of thousands more staff, officials and media attending the world’s biggest sporting event, apart from the hundreds of thousands of spectators and visitors in the Brazilian city.

“A plan has already been put in place for the Games venues in the lead-up to and at Games time, which will see them inspected on a daily basis in order to ensure that any puddles of stagnant water -- where the mosquitoes breed -- are removed, therefore minimizing the risk of athletes and visitors coming into contact with mosquitoes,” the IOC said.

“Rio 2016 will also continue to follow the virus prevention and control measures provided by the authorities, and will provide the relevant guidance to Games athletes and visitors.”

Several countries are already warning their athletes about the virus with the Australian team recommending team members not leave windows or doors open when staying in Rio and use air conditioning instead.

“We remain confident that there will be a safe environment for successful and enjoyable Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro,” the IOC said.

Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Pritha Sarkar