Special Zika Virus Considerations Needed for Athletes

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With the Olympics and Paralympics around the corner in Rio De Janeiro, a hotspot for Zika virus, concerns about how the virus will effect athletes, their performance and their attendance at the Games is on the forefront of many people’s minds and discussed in a recent article published in the journal Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach.

Traveling health care team members and their athletes should be aware and take the appropriate steps to prevent Zika virus infection and review updated information from the CDC prior to leaving. -Brett G. Toresdahl, MD and Irfan M. Asif, MD

With the Olympics and Paralympics around the corner in Rio De Janeiro, a hotspot for Zika virus, concerns about how the virus will effect athletes, their performance and their attendance at the Games is on the forefront of many people’s minds and discussed in a recent article published in the journal Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach.

In a recently published online review article from Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, physicians Brett G. Toresdahl, MD from Hospital for Special Surgery in New York and Irfan M. Asif, MD of the University of South Carolina in Greenville discuss what athletes and their physicians should be concerned about when traveling to the Games.

“Ensuring the safety of athletes is the top priority of a team physician during all phases of training and competition. Zika virus poses a unique challenge for physicians,” said Toresdahl. “Our paper reviewed the potential risk of Zika virus to athletes, diagnosis, treatments, and most importantly prevention of the virus.”

Most athletes who become infected with Zika virus would be expected to have mild or no symptoms, however acute symptoms such as joint pain, fatigue, and muscle aches can definitely interfere with an athlete’s ability to train and compete. The authors suggested that competing through symptoms may have consequences for the athlete’s immune system and prolong the virus’ duration.

Since a significant portion of female athletes are of child bearing age, the birth defect complications of the virus may be of more concern. Several athletes have already decided not to participate in the games due to the potential risks to a future pregnancy. The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and the Australian Olympic Council have instructed female athletes of childbearing age to carefully consider the risks and for male athletes to wear barrier contraception during sex.

Currently there is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus. The mainstay for prevention is avoiding mosquito bites by wearing protective clothing, staying in places where air conditioning is present or that use mosquito nets, utilize mosquito repellents regularly and often, and treat clothing and gear with permethrin.

“Traveling health care team members and their athletes should be aware and take the appropriate steps to prevent Zika virus infection and review updated information from the Centers for Disease Control prior to leaving,” said Toresdahl and Asif.

Published bimonthly, Sports Health is a collaborative publication from the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM), the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM), the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), and the Sports Physical Therapy Section (SPTS). For more information on the publication or to submit a manuscript, click here.

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