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Monday 29 May 2023 Dublin: 11°C
# Birth Defects
Rory isn't willing to take the risk, but just how big a problem is the Zika virus?
Couples hoping to have a baby are being told to hold off for two-to-six months after travelling to infected areas.

GOLFER RORY MCILROY has pulled out of this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero over fears of the Zika virus.

McIlroy says he’s unwilling to take the risk of contracting the virus, which has been linked to birth defects in newborn babies.

But just how big a risk does the virus pose?

Currently, The World Health Organisation (WHO) is advising pregnant women not to travel to the more than 60 countries and territories that have been affected by the ongoing Zika outbreak.

This is due to its links to a serious birth condition, microcephaly, where the baby is born with an unusually small head. In cases of microcephaly, the baby’s brain may not have formed during pregnancy.

Because the Zika virus can remain in the system, the WHO is also advising couples who are planning a pregnancy to hold off on conceiving if either of them travels to an affected area.

Golf McIlroy Out Charlie Riedel Charlie Riedel

Anyone who displays symptoms of the virus needs to wait six months before trying to conceive, while even those who don’t display symptoms are being advised to wait eight weeks.

Three out of four people infected with Zika do not display symptoms, which include a mild fever, muscle or joint pains, headache, itchy rash and conjunctivitis.

Because the Zika virus can be transmitted through sperm, men whose partners are pregnant are also being advised to use a condom or abstain from sex for the duration of the pregnancy if they travel to an infected area.

Baby Born Zika Virus

According to Siobhan Grehan, director of nursing at the Tropical Medical Bureau (TMB) in Dublin, this advice is putting off some people from travelling to South America or other Zika-infected areas.

“I have people coming in here who are going on honeymoon in Brazil and when you explain the situation they decide they’ll go somewhere else instead,” Grehan told

Grehan said the current WHO guidelines have been introduced out of “an abundance of caution”.

The WHO is not issuing any notice not to travel. It is not looking to cancel the Olympics and it’s not looking to move the Olympics to another country. People are living in these areas and dealing with this every day.

Most travellers look on it as another mosquito-borne illness – such as dengue fever – that can be prevented by taking precautions, she said.

These include using a strong DEET-containing repellent, wearing long-sleeved loose clothing and avoiding perfumes.

Now that it is winter in Rio de Janeiro, temperatures are colder and the risk of being bitten by a mosquito are lower, Grehan said.

But if you happen to fall into the category where you’re planning to conceive then that’s something you have to think about.
You have to decide if you want to take a risk in terms of this being something that’s a little unknown.
For Rory McIlroy, that’s a risk that he and his partner are not prepared to take and that’s very understandable.

Current advice for men

Even men who are not planning a pregnancy with their partner are being advised by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) to take precautions if they travel to infected areas.

Research shows Zika can remain present in semen for up to two months after symptoms have started.

Similar to those who are planning a pregnancy, men who don’t display Zika symptoms are advised to use condoms for eight weeks after their return from an affected area, while those who do get infected are advised to practice safe sex for six months.

Read: Brazil’s health minister says “less than one tourist will be infected” with Zika virus

Read: The Olympics won’t be moved – despite doctors saying it could cause a Zika epidemic

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