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German Olympic doctor warns against Zika virus panic ahead of Rio

Europe
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Dusseldorf (dpa) - German Olympic team doctor Bernd Wolfahrt says there is no reason for panic ahead of the Rio de Janeiro Games in August in connection with the rapid spreading of the Zika virus in Brazil.

"Thankfully we have a little time and we are carefully monitoring the situation," Wolfahrt told dpa Friday. "We will wait and see how the Brazilian authorities react. Big efforts are under way to contain the epidemic."

The fast spread of the Zika virus in the Americas has prompted the World Health Organization to discuss whether the outbreak constitutes a global health emergency. WHO officials said there may have been 1.5 million Zika cases in Brazil, where the outbreak started last year, and that the number of cases in the Americas could grow to 4 million within 12 months.

The Rio Olympics take place August 5-21. There is currently neither a vaccine nor a rapid diagnostic method in place.

The Zika virus is said to be the reason behind birth malformations through mother-to-child transmission, with some 4,000 babies born with unusually small heads amid the outbreak. There has also been a spike in reported cases of Guillain-Barre muscle weakness syndrome.

Wolfahrt said German team doctors would discuss strategies for the team at a meeting in late April.

The International Olympic Committee meanwhile plans to meet with national Olympic Committees and brief them on the issue next week and IOC president Thomas Bach was quoted as saying they are in close contact with Brazilian officials and the WHO.

The Games take place during the Brazilian winter which could lower the overall risks, according to Bach.

German pole vaulter Silke Spiegelburg, who once suffered from dengue fever which is related to Zika, told dpa that the issue was on athletes‘ minds.

"It was an issue again in training yesterday (Thursday). We are a little bit afraid whether the action taken works and what could happen. There are certain fears," Spiegelburg said.

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