Dr. Arthur Caplan, founding head of the Division of Bioethics at New York University, discussed the Zika threat to the Summer Olympics on Wednesday’s Breitbart News Daily with SiriusXM host Stephen K. Bannon.
Caplan said he was not certain the safety of the Olympics in Brazil could be guaranteed. He is one of 150 experts to sign a letter to the World Health Organization, urging it to pressure Olympic authorities to reschedule the games.
“I wish they would postpone it, or move it to some other location. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s going to happen. The commercial interests, the amount of money involved, the prestige – I think this thing is gonna go,” he predicted.
Caplan said public health officials still aren’t taking Zika as seriously as they should be.
“It’s partly because what they’re saying is, look, Zika’s been around in Brazil. Some say it’s winter down there, which is true, although winter in Rio is pretty warm,” he explained. “I’ve looked at the temperatures. The mosquitoes like those temperatures just fine.”
“The other big problem is, they’re focused in on the mosquitoes, but there’s a sexual transmission route for this disease,” he continued. “What I’m afraid is going to happen is, you’ll bring in 500,000 people to a very big party, and they won’t protect themselves. They won’t practice safe sex, and you’ll get sexual transmission going on there, and people will bring it back to their home countries.”
He thought Zika had the potential to become a bigger problem in the United States.
“I think the Zika mosquito is coming here. Zika may get here faster if some of our athletes come back infected, and give it to their partners, but that’s another problem,” Caplan warned. “And then what I worry about is, there are parts of the world that don’t have Zika, but if you bring in 500,000 people and some of them go back to these places where there is no Zika, they’ll bring it with them. So, yes, I do worry that we could see this thing intensifying, and I still don’t believe that we’re spending enough money yet on a vaccine or a treatment.”
He stopped short of recommending that the U.S. team should be pulled out of the Rio Olympics, but advised “informed consent,” plus “more transparent information about what the risks are, what we know, what we don’t know.”
“For example, we don’t know how long this virus stays in your body,” Caplan said. “If you do get infected, when is it safe to try and have a kid, or when can you have unprotected sex again safely? We can’t really answer that question yet.”
“Don’t send women of child-bearing age, don’t send anybody who’s thinking about having a child. That would be irresponsible,” he declared, noting that some journalists have begun refusing to cover the Rio Olympics for those reasons, prominently including pregnant NBC anchor Savannah Guthrie.
Caplan noted the increasing caution of news networks about traveling into the Zika outbreak region might lead to public-relations and legal trouble down the road, but once the Olympic Games are under way, the glamor and spectacle of the great global event would overwhelm those concerns.
“Once the athletes hit the pool, once they start running around the oval track, the focus shifts there, and you know, it’s kind of in a way a small miracle. Everybody forgets about everything, and we just appreciate the athletic performances. I’m sure that’s what they’re betting on,” he said.
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