Researchers to monitor potential Zira virus exposure in US Olympic team

Posted: 5 July 2016 | Victoria White, Digital Content Producer | No comments yet

The study aims to improve understanding of how the Zika virus persists in the body and to identify potential factors that influence the course of infection…

Researchers supported by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) are to monitor potential Zira virus exposure among US athletes, coaches and Olympic Committee (USOC) staff while attending this year’s Olympics and Paralympics in Brazil.

The study aims to improve understanding of how the virus persists in the body and to identify potential factors that influence the course of infection.

Catherine Y. Spong, M.D., acting director of the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), explained more: “Monitoring the health and reproductive outcomes of members of the US Olympic team offers a unique opportunity to answer important questions and help address an ongoing public health emergency.”

The project aims to enrol at least 1,000 men and women and will be led by Carrie L. Byington, M.D., from the University of Utah. USOC established an Infectious Disease Advisory Group (IDAG), chaired by Dr Byington, to help prepare the U.S. Olympic team for travel to Brazil, which is the epicentre of the Zika virus outbreak in the Americas.

“We partnered with the USOC to improve knowledge of the dynamics of Zika infection, so that we can better protect the health of athletes and staff who will participate in the 2016 Games,” said Dr Byington. “This ongoing relationship also opens avenues for long-term research that promises to benefit not only the Americas, but also other regions facing the emergence of the virus.”

Identifying potential risk factors for infection

The current study seeks to determine the incidence of Zika virus infection, identify potential risk factors for infection, detect where the virus persists in the body (blood, semen, vaginal secretions or saliva), evaluate how long the virus remains in these fluids, and study the reproductive outcomes of Zika-infected participants for up to one year.

To prepare, USOC and the University of Utah conducted a pilot study in March and April 2016. The study was fully enrolled in two days and included 150 participants. Notably, one-third of the pilot group indicated that they or their partner planned to become pregnant within 12 months of the Olympic Games.

Participants in the current study will complete health surveys and provide samples of bodily fluids for the detection of Zika and similar flaviviruses, such as dengue. Zika virus infection typically does not cause symptoms in adults, so routine sampling will detect asymptomatic infections and help shed light on symptomatic versus asymptomatic infections.

The 2016 Summer Olympics will take place in Rio de Janeiro, from 5-21 August 2016, and the Paralympic Games are scheduled for 7-18 September 2016.

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