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U.S. Olympic Committee to Hire Specialists for Zika

Update Date: Feb 11, 2016 10:43 AM EST
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The U.S. Olympic Committee will be sending two disease specialists to the upcoming 2016 Rio Olympics. The specialists will advise athletes about the Zika virus, which has become quite common in Brazil over the past few months.

"I know that the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil is of concern to many of you," the USOC CEO Scott Blackmun wrote in a letter addressed to all potential Olympians, reported by FOX News. "I want to emphasize that it is to us, as well, and that your well-being in Rio this summer is our highest priority."

He added, "First and foremost, we want to make sure our athletes have accurate information because they're concerned. Based on what we know now, the primary threat is to unborn children."

Hope Solo, the goaltender for the USA women's soccer team, had expressed her concerns about going to the Olympics. Solo, 34, stated to Sports Illustrated that if the games were being held right now, she would not participate. Soccer games, unlike the other Olympic events, are held outside of Rio where the mosquito population that can transmit Zika and other diseases is much larger.

"I would never take the risk of having an unhealthy child," said Solo. "I don't know when that day will come for Jerramy [Stevens] and me, but I personally reserve my right to have a healthy baby. No athlete competing in Rio should be faced with this dilemma. Female professional athletes already face many different considerations and have to make choices that male professional athletes don't."

The mosquito-borne virus has been linked to birth defect microcephaly. Babies affected by the defect have abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains. The virus has also been tied to a rare condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can lead to paralysis in severe cases.

Health officials and experts across the Americas have been conducting studies to understand the virus better. In the meantime, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued travel and safe sex guidelines for pregnant women and women planning on getting pregnant.

Officials in central and South America have advised women to delay pregnancies. Pregnant women who think they might have been infected should seek out medical care.

The USOC will also be posting updates about the virus on its site here.

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