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Dr. Art Caplan on Breitbart News Daily: Postpone Olympics Until Zika Under Control

Dr. Art Caplan of the NYU Langone Medical Center appeared on Breitbart News Daily Friday morning to call for at least a six-month delay in the 2016 Brazil Summer Olympics, due to the Zika virus outbreak.

Noting that he was not an alarmist by nature, Dr. Caplan said he thought the Zika threat has been underestimated by health authorities around the world, including those in the United States.

“You’ve got this outbreak going on, and you’re going to expose hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, who go down there to attend the Olympics or participate in them,” he warned. “We don’t have a cure, we don’t have a vaccine, there is now a couple of cases that have been reported about transmission of the virus into the blood supply, we don’t have a good test for that… why would we be trying to run an Olympics in a country that is straining, anyway?”

Caplan noted that Zika originated in Africa, but was brought to the current South American outbreak zone by travelers over the past few decades. A huge number of travelers entering Brazil for the Olympics and then returning home would present a large risk of Zika migrating to new areas, where it could be spread through local populations by mosquito bites, possibly through sexual contact, or contaminate the blood supply, as Caplan warned. Breitbart News host Stephen K. Bannon noted that Brazil has not canceled the Carnaval celebration, which will also attract a sizable number of international travelers.

Asked why governments and international health agencies are not taking the Zika outbreak seriously enough to consider postponing or suspending these public events, Caplan replied, “Business, money, investment in the infrastructure.”

“I’m not cynical, but that’s the only explanation I’ve got for you,” he said, as Bannon noted the enormous amount of investment and profit in the Olympic Games, by everyone from local businesses to international news organizations.

Caplan’s advice was to “get six months, get nine months, postpone this – it’s not like the thing has to happen in August. Develop a good diagnostic test. Get something that lets us test the blood supply. Make sure that we’ve killed all the mosquitoes. You know – let’s use some common sense here.”

Bannon compared such a postponement to the delay of the Ryder Cup after the 9/11 terror attacks. Caplan agreed with the example and asked, if the Olympics are held on schedule: “Are you gonna round up the family, and the teenage daughters, and say: ‘Hey, let’s go watch the discus throw in the middle of a Zika epidemic?’”

The degree of uncertainty around Zika is major component of its threat profile, as Caplan explained. There is still much that is not known about the virus, including the reason it suddenly became so much more aggressive during the current outbreak, and the exact nature of its relationship to the severe neurological reaction in produces in some victims, or the birth defects it has been associated with. Caplan mentioned the possibility that the virus has mutated, and could mutate again, as well as the danger of introducing it into new populations with very little natural immunity.

“I think the biggest threat is getting it into the blood supply,” he said of the menace Zika poses to the American population. “You’ve got people traveling down there, they come back, they’re not symptomatic, or they’re not female – they’re not going to have a kid with birth defects… you put that in the blood supply, and you’re exposing a lot of women who will have children to the virus. That’s something that really worries me.”

In the current situation, Caplan’s recommendation for protecting the blood supply was simple: “If you’ve been in those countries, don’t donate blood.” He said local blood clinics should begin taking steps to screen out travelers to the Zika outbreak region immediately, “today.”   

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