In the lead-up to the Rio Olympics, there was a flurry of panic around whether the games might act as a super-spreading event for the Zika virus, flinging cases out of the hot zone (Brazil) and into the far corners of the earth. Some worried critics even called for the games to be postponed or moved. Some athletes dropped out in fear of the virus.
But researchers studying Zika and expert agencies like the World Health Organization insisted the fears were unfounded.
Turns out the experts were correct. On Friday, the WHO confirmed that no new infections arose at the Olympics itself, and furthermore, no cases have been reported since travelers and athletes have returned to their home countries.
There are two likely reasons for this:
- It’s winter in Rio, so mosquitoes aren’t around in great numbers, biting people. (Mosquito bites are thought to be the main way the Zika virus spreads.)
- The number of new cases recorded in the country has been on the decline for months, while authorities have been taking precautions to kill off and control mosquito populations.
Zika is still an international public health emergency
There is some bad Zika news from the latest WHO report, however: The agency said it still considers Zika an international public health emergency since the virus continues to turn up in new places, bringing potential damage to fetuses wherever it goes.
In February, the agency first declared the Zika pandemic an international health emergency in the face of mounting science that showed pregnant mothers infected with the virus were more likely to give birth to babies with brain damage and other health complications.
The agency met again on September 2 to assess the current Zika threat and determined that it still constitutes a global health crisis. Most recently, more than 100 Zika cases have been reported in Singapore, and experts anticipate other Asian and African countries will report more cases soon.