Doctors advise UAE residents travelling for Olympics to take Zika caution

As Games in Brazil near, residents bound for Rio events are offered medical advice.

Olympic fever grips the host city Rio de Janeiro with only a week to go before the opening ceremony next Friday in Brazil. The iconic Copacabana beach will be the starting point for the road cycling race, marathon swimming and triathlon competitions. Felipe Dana / AP Photo
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ABU DHABI // Doctors have advised UAE residents travelling to Brazil for the Olympics to take precautions against mosquito-borne viruses such as Zika.

Pregnant women travelling to Rio de Janeiro for the Summer Games should see their gynaecologist before they travel and after their return, said Dr Bindiya Jhamb, specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist at NMC Royal Hospital in Khalifa City A.

“Any woman who is pregnant or planning a pregnancy should avoid going for the Olympics. If you are going, you need to keep yourself covered and avoid going to a crowded place,” she said.

Dr Jhamb advised using insect repellents and stay in air-conditioned environments if travelling for the event.

Zika virus is transmitted mostly by a type of mosquito in tropical regions such as in Brazil, and is believed to cause microcephaly, a condition of abnormal smallness of the head, and Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological disorder.

Other mosquito-borne viruses causing concern include dengue and chikungunya.

Yellow fever vaccinations and malaria medication may be recommended depending on which locations were visited.

Visitors should follow general food and water precautions to minimise the risk of diarrhoea.

Dr Issam Badaoui, medical director of assistance at International SOS, said travellers have been requesting advice from the medical and travel security services company and should have seen their doctor at least six weeks before departure.

“We have been receiving several calls a day to our assistance centres worldwide from members around the globe, who have been enquiring about precautions ahead of travel to Brazil, as well as advice on whether or not they should travel to the Rio Olympics before they make a final decision,” he said.

“We have been receiving calls about the Zika virus over a couple of months now, but that number has increased ahead of the Rio Olympics.”

Travellers from the UAE might want to keep a copy of key travel safety phrases in Portuguese so they can more easily communicate with Brazilians.

“If travelling to an infected area, people can prevent infection by preventing mosquito bites,” he said.

Travellers should monitor their health for two weeks after returning.

Zika can be spread through sexual contact, doctors said.

Dr Badaoui recommended using an effective insect repellent that contains Deet, Picaridin, PMD or IR3535, and to use “knock-down” insect spray to kill mosquitoes in a room.

International SOS warned that it is flu season in Brazil and the H1N1 virus was undergoing a resurgence.

Vaccinations, including for influenza, should be up to date before travelling.

Ahmed Al Kamali, head of the UAE Athletics Federation and member of the National Olympic Committee, will travel to Brazil for the games and said he believed the team is ready.

“Some sports people are already there. Be careful and take necessary vaccinations.”