WHO issues travel advice regarding the Olympics and Zika virus (28 May 2016)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently issued travel advice regarding the Olympics and Zika virus. Similar advice has been issued by the US CDC and some other public health agencies.

Background Information:

Based on research to date, there is scientific consensus that Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS).

Zika virus can be transmitted through sexual contact with an infected person.

Virus persists in blood and saliva for only about one week; urine for about two weeks. Parts of the virus (not necessary live virus) can persist in semen for up to two months, but the duration of persistence in semen is ‘an unknown’.

Key Messages:

Based on current assessment, cancelling or changing the location of the 2016 Olympics will not significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus.

Brazil is 1 of almost 60 countries and territories which to date report continuing transmission of Zika by mosquitoes.

The US CDC in a recent statement said that “Travel to the Olympics would represent less than one quarter of 1% of all travel to Zika-affected areas.  Even if you were to say the Olympics weren’t to happen, you would still be left with 99.75% of the risk of Zika continuing to spread.

WHO advises pregnant women not to travel to areas with ongoing Zika virus transmission. This includes Rio de Janeiro.

Sexual partners of pregnant women returning from areas with circulating virus should be counselled to practise safer sex (consistently use condoms) or abstain (from sex) throughout the pregnancy.

Anyone considering travel to the Olympics should:

  • Follow the travel advice provided by their countries’ health authorities, and consult a health worker before travelling.


  • Whenever possible, during the day, protect themselves from mosquito bites by using insect repellents and by wearing clothing – preferably light-coloured – that covers as much of the body as possible.


  • Practise safer sex (for example, use condoms correctly and consistently) or abstain from sex during their stay and for at least 4 weeks after their return, particularly if they have had or are experiencing symptoms of Zika virus.


  • Choose air-conditioned accommodation (where windows and doors are usually kept closed to prevent the cool air from escaping, and mosquitoes cannot enter the rooms).


  • Avoid visiting areas in cities and towns with no piped water or poor sanitation (ideal breeding grounds of mosquitoes), where the risk of being bitten by mosquitoes is higher.

Useful Links:

Link to the WHO news release:


Link to transcript of a press briefing by the Director of the US CDC:


Link to WHO page providing information for travellers visiting zika affected countries:


Link to WHO’s Situation Report on Zika virus (26 May 2016):


Link to WHO’s page on Zika virus and complications:


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