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Australia warns athletes against Zika at Rio

Photo: EPA/Marecelo Sayao)

Photo: EPA/Marecelo Sayao)

SYDNEY, January 27 – Australia’s Olympic athletes were Wednesday told to take precautions against Zika-carrying mosquitoes at the Games in Brazil, with officials advising them to consider whether to travel to Rio de Janeiro if pregnant.

A surge in babies suffering from microcephaly, in which children have abnormally small heads, born to women infected with Zika has prompted warnings from Australia and other governments about travelling to affected countries.

In Brazil, Zika virus infections in pregnant women have been linked to 3,893 births of babies with microcephaly compared to an average of about 160 a year, the World Health Organisation has said.

The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) said the health of its team was “paramount”.

It warned that females of childbearing age “need to be aware of the specific risks of microcephaly in newborns, should the mother become infected during pregnancy”.

“Any team members who are pregnant at the time of the Games need to consider the risks very carefully before deciding whether to proceed with travel to Brazil,” it said in a statement.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs has advised pregnant women to consider postponing travel to Brazil. The Olympic Games begin on August 5.

The AOC said athletes and officials would be given mosquito repellent, and told to wear long sleeves when they were at risk of bites from the insects such as in areas with stagnant water.

Athletes living in the Games village are to be advised to keep their windows and doors closed and use air conditioning.

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Other mosquito-borne diseases the sporting body warned against and that are also spread by the Aedes genus of mosquitoes includes dengue fever, yellow fever and Chikungunya. All team members would be vaccinated against yellow fever, the AOC said.

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