Female Olympic hopefuls monitoring Zika virus in Rio

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Some of the best women in golf will head to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this summer wondering what they risk trying to win a gold medal with the Center for Disease Control issuing travel advisories to Brazil due to the ongoing Zika virus outbreak there.

“I have been following [the developments],” Azahara Munoz told GolfChannel.com. “It’s definitely something that really concerns me, especially being outside for so many hours, and me being only 28 years old.”

Munoz, who is currently within qualification standards to represent Spain at the Olympics, was married in December. The virus, spread primarily by mosquitos, typically results in mild symptoms that include fever, fatigue and a rash that usually disappears in a week, but it is deemed particularly threatening to women of child bearing age. The virus is associated with a birth defect called microcephaly, a malady characterized by children being born with abnormally small heads and brains.

Munoz is No. 15 in the Olympic Women’s Rankings. The top 60 as of July 11 qualify for the games.

“I would go, anyway, but I really hope it does get better, or at least they come up with a solution, because it’s pretty scary,” Munoz said.


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American Cristie Kerr, who is No. 11 in the Olympic Women’s Rankings, said she’s following news developments and is not “overly concerned” at this point.

“I will consult with my travel doctor and see what precautions I need to take,” Kerr said. “Beyond that, there’s not much you can do.”

Rolex world No. 1 Lydia Ko, 18, said she feels for those already stricken in that region of South America but like Kerr isn’t sure what LPGA pros can do.

“There are some things that we can’t control and that is out of our hands,” Ko said. “We still have eight months until the Olympics. It’s something we have got to keep looking at and monitor for now. I guess that’s all we can do.”

Bobby Kreusler, agent for American Lexi Thompson, who is No. 4 in the Olympic Women’s Rankings, said he is monitoring developments. Thompson turns 21 on Wednesday.

“We’re waiting for more information and doing our own research,” Kreusler said. “I don’t know how you completely avoid it, other than not going.”

LPGA chief of tour operations Heather Daly-Donofrio said the LPGA is working with the appropriate governing bodies to prepare the tour’s players for this summer’s games. 

“The LPGA is aware of recent reports regarding the Zika virus and has been gathering information while staying in close contact with the International Golf Federation (IGF) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC),” Daly-Donofrio said. “All parties are closely monitoring the situation in Brazil.  The LPGA will be consulting with our medical team in the coming weeks and months to learn more about the virus and plan to educate our players accordingly.”

Reuters reported on Monday that the U.S. Olympic Committee told U.S. sports federations in a conference call that athletes and staff concerned over the Zika virus should consider not going to the Olympic Games. On Tuesday, however, the U.S. Olympic Committee strongly denied that report.

“Team USA looks forward to the Games and we did not, would not and will not prevent athletes from competing for their country should they qualify,” Patrick Sandusky, a spokesman for the USOC, said in a statement. “We are closely monitoring the situation through the CDC and have ongoing contact with the International Olympic Committee, the organizing officials in Rio, the World Health Organization and infectious disease specialists with expertise in tropical diseases, including the Zika virus. Additionally, we're taking steps to ensure that our delegation and those affiliated with Team USA are aware of the CDC's recommendations regarding travel to Brazil.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, addressed the issues facing athletes in a news conference Monday.

“It’s very difficult to give advice to people who devoted the last X number of years training for that,” Fauci said. “What we can do, and the CDC can do, is give them the facts.

“As an infection, Zika is relatively mild ... The issues we are focusing on is the issue of pregnant women.”

The CDC has issued travel advisories cautioning pregnant women, or women who may become pregnant, to avoid traveling to areas with ongoing Zika virus outbreaks. Olympic organizers have pointed out that the games will fall during winter months in Brazil and that by the time the Olympics begin on Aug. 5, the main mosquito season will be over.

Olympic organizers’ medical director Joao Grangeiro said in an Olympic Games news conference last week that risks are minimal.

“Athletes should come to the Olympic Games,” Grangeiro said. “They are not at risk.

“We will have Summer Games, but for us it’s winter time. We will not have an epidemic or pandemic situation. We can’t say we won’t have any cases, but we see this as a minimal risk.”