Delay the Olympics?

From Amir Attaran at the Harvard Public Health Review:

Brazil’s Zika problem is inconveniently not ending. The outbreak that began in the country’s northeast has reached Rio de Janeiro, where it is flourishing. Clinical studies are also mounting that Zika infection is associated not just with pediatric microcephaly and brain damage, but also adult conditions such as Guillain-Barré syndrome and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which are debilitating and sometimes fatal. …

But for the Games, would anyone recommend sending an extra half a million visitors into Brazil right now? Of course not: mass migration into the heart of an outbreak is a public health no-brainer. And given the choice between accelerating a dangerous new disease or not—for it is impossible that Games will slow Zika down—the answer should be a no-brainer for the Olympic organizers too.  Putting sentimentality aside, clearly the Rio 2016 Games must not proceed.

Attaran’s argument is straightforward. Zika is prevalent in Rio and the strain is more dangerous than we understood. The Olympics will speed the global spread of the virus, reducing the time available to develop a coherent response. And intensifying a devastating disease is not what the Olympics are all about.

I bet you’re not persuaded. I’m not either—not yet. But here’s the hard question: what would it take to persuade you? More evidence on fetal harm (there’s already a lot)? Evidence about how much more quickly the Olympics will lead Zika to spread? Some sense of how fast we’re likely to develop a vaccine or antiviral? A better understanding of whether we can cope with Zika if it becomes endemic?

And with all of these questions, how much uncertainty are you willing to tolerate?


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