Pacific Island Athletes May Have Brought Zika to Brazil

By Hope Imaka – EM TV Online

New research suggests that current Zika outbreak in Brazil may have been introduced to Rio de Janeiro during the sixth World Sprint Championship canoe race in August 2014.

The research, published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, includes genetic analysis of several virus samples, indicating that the virus was introduced to Brazil from Asia and the Pacific. The race included teams from four Pacific countries French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Cook Islands and Easter Island where the virus circulated during 2014.

Professor Philip Hill from the University of Otago’s Centre for International Health is Sceptical about the theory.

Hill says, while conclusions are drawn they are made in the speculation section of research.

“It could easily have started off in Asia a long time before then and come from another part of Brazil in 2014/15 – you can’t be more specific than that.”

Professor Michael Baker of the Department of Public Health in the University of Otago says, while it is based on speculation, it is a reminder that emerging infectious diseases will often hitchhike on infected humans across the globe.

Another key finding from yesterday’s published study in PLOS was evidence of cases in Rio de Janeiro as early as January 2015. Health officials, after basing studies on 364 patients suffering acute skin rashes hadn’t alerted authorities till May 2015.

They confirmed Zika in 119 of the samples, none of which had travelled recently, which meant the disease was acquired locally.

 “The strain of virus that is plaguing Brazil is the same strain of virus found in Asia and the Pacific, and was clearly introduced to South America around 2014, and that does fit in with the timing of this sporting event…” – Prof. Philip Baker

With this news, it is now up to public health officials in Rio to take action to control the epidemic ahead of the Rio Olympics to be held in August this year. 

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