Kenya has threatened to pull out of this year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro if the ongoing Zika virus reaches “epidemic levels”.
The mosquito-born virus has been declared a global emergency by the World Heath Organization (WHO) as fears have intensified in recent weeks.
Pregnant women have been advised not to travel to areas where Zika is prevalent due to a link between the virus and microcephaly, a condition which can lead to babies being born with small heads and under-developed brains.
Other symptoms include fevers, rashes, joint pain and conjunctivitis.
The virus is prevalent throughout the Americas, but, with Brazil the epicentre of the crisis, fears are intensifying ahead of the Games.
“We are not going to risk taking Kenyans there if this Zika virus reaches epidemic levels,” said National Olympic Committee of Kenya President Kipchoge Keino.
It follows confusion yesterday after Reuters reported that the United States Olympic Committee told its Federations that athletes should consider not attending.
USOC later denied having given this advice.
Other bodies have been more measured, with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) claiming they are in “close contact” with organisers but stopping short of warning anyone not to attend.
Various National Olympic Committees, including those in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea, have all issued advice for how athletes should respond to the situation.
It is hoped that, because the Games, due to open on August 5, take place during the Brazilian winter, concerns over the virus will have died down before then.
In their latest advice, issued via Twitter, the WHO claim “diagnostics are a top urgency in order to ascertain the presence of Zika virus as opposed to other similar diseases like dengue fever or chikungunya”.
“As of today, most research that could be useful for Zika virus has been carried out on other flaviviruses – such as dengue or yellow fever,” the organisation added.
“WHO is currently mapping existing R&D [research and development] for Zika in order to prioritize medical products and approaches that should be fast-tracked into development.”
If Kenya do pull out, however, it would be a significant blow and would detract hugely from the standard of the athletics competition, due to take place at the Estádio Olímpico João Havelange.
The African nation won 11 medals at London 2012, all in athletics.
They won two gold medals, including in the 800 metres where David Rudisha ran a world record of 1min 40.91sec.
Ezekiel Kemboi also claimed 3,000m steeplechase gold.
Kenya also finished top of the medals table at last year’s World Athletics Championships in Beijing, winning seven gold, six silver and three bronze medals.
- By Nick Butler republished with permission insidethegames.biz