With every virus and disease, there comes a moment when the world needs to ask the question, "How serious is this?"
It appears we are reaching that moment with the virus known as Zika.
This past week, Harvard scientists warned that the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics — set for Aug. 5-21 in Brazil’s capital city — could spark a "full-blown global health disaster."
Just discovered a year ago, the Zika virus is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito from the Aedes aegypti species.
Zika is usually a mild illness. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika.
And a majority of the time, this causes people to not even realize they’ve been infected.
On the surface, this doesn’t sound all that bad. But here’s the reason for Harvard’s recent warning and why Zika should be taken very seriously.
Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly, as well as other severe fetal brain defects.
Not only is Zika extremely detrimental to unborn babies and their mothers, we have no idea about the future birth defects Zika could cause down the line. Not just for unborn babies and newborns, but also for women who plan to have children (or more children).
This has caused female Olympic athletes and female tourists to begin to question whether traveling to Rio this summer is worth the risk.
But that doesn’t mean males are exempt from risk.
New research points to a possible connection to higher rates of Guillain-Barré syndrome in adults. This is a condition in which the immune system attacks nerves following an infection, causing muscle weakness and paralysis.
Writing in the Harvard Public Health Review, University of Ottawa professor Amir Attaran said the games could speed up the spread of the virus.
Related story: The Zika Virus is Coming to Your Neighborhood
Attaran suggested the games could be hosted by another city in Brazil where the illness is less of a threat.
As he wrote:
"While Brazil’s Zika inevitably will spread globally, given enough time, viruses always do — it helps nobody to speed that up. …
"In particular, it cannot possibly help when an estimated 500,000 foreign tourists flock into Rio for the Games, potentially becoming infected, and returning to their homes where both local Aedes mosquitoes and sexual transmission can establish new outbreaks."
The only times in recent history the Olympic Committee canceled the games were 1916, 1940 and 1944. Each coincided with a period of global conflict — the first event was set for the middle of World War I, and the other two were during World War II.
And now, with just three months until the opening ceremonies, the world is going to have to act quickly. This could mean either moving the location from Rio or canceling the games entirely.
Either way, such a move would seem almost impossible. Cities usually spend the better half of a decade building the needed infrastructure to support the influx of athletes and tourists.
What are your thoughts on Zika and the Olympic Games? Is this a great enough risk to cancel the world’s greatest sporting event? Let us know by leaving a comment in the comments section below.
That’s all for today.
Happy and healthy investing,