With the Summer Olympics just weeks away, athletes are less worried about the competition and more worried about a very small but very real threat: mosquitos.
The Zika virus has been a major plague on the planning of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil. The affect of the mosquito-borne virus has hit Brazil harder than any other country in the world, leaving more than 1,500 newborns with serious brain defects. Many Olympic athletes have elected to skip this summer’s event, leading Brazil’s Health Minister to pen personal letters to those athletes asking them to reconsider.
But Zika, although receiving a lot of media attention, is not the largest risk. “For the majority of the population in Brazil, dengue is more of a problem than Zika,” said Anna Durbin, a professor and vaccine researcher at Johns Hopkins University’s Department of International Health. “That’s what people coming for the Olympics should be concerned about. It’s burning through South America. And I don’t think it’s going anywhere.”
This year in Brazil, there have been 4,771 reported cases of Zika, compared to 1,244,583 cases of dengue. Rio de Janeiro alone, where the Olympics will take place, has seen 8,133 cases of dengue, six times higher than the reported number at this time last year.
In fact, in the past few years, mosquito-borne diseases in general have grown at an “explosive” rate, and epidemiologists haven’t been able to pinpoint the source of this growth, according to Peter Hotez, the dean of Baylor College of Medicine’s National School of Tropical Medicine.
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