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Pregnant women should avoid this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

The public health agency has been urging pregnant women for several weeks to avoid traveling to places where the Zika virus is spreading. But up until now, it has side-stepped the question of the Brazil Olympiad.

In fact, three weeks ago the director of the CDC’s division of global migration and quarantine told STAT the question of the Summer Olympics was definitely on the CDC’s radar, but the agency felt it could hold off for a bit longer.


Dr. Martin Cetron said at the time the suspected link between Zika infection in pregnancy and microcephaly, a serious birth defect, would likely become clearer before the CDC had to make a decision about the Olympics.

It has made one now. Pregnant women should consider not attending the Games, advice posted on the CDC’s website Friday said. Pregnant women who must go should speak with their doctor first and do everything they can to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes during their time in Brazil.


The agency warned that pregnant women who have a male partner going to Brazil for the Olympics or the Paralympics are at risk of becoming infected through sex and should either use condoms properly for all sex or abstain for the rest of their pregnancies.

The CDC said women who are trying to become pregnant and are considering going to Brazil for the events in August and September should talk to their doctors about their risk of infection and should take all necessary steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

Are you at risk for contracting Zika virus? Your level of risk depends in part on your living conditions. Alex Hogan/STAT

To limit the extent of further Zika transmission, some observers are even calling on the International Olympic Committee to postpone the Games.

Zika virus is normally transmitted to people through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. But evidence is mounting that transmission through sex — from an infected male to his partner — is not only possible, but may happen more frequently than previously believed.

The CDC this week reported it was exploring 14 suspected cases of sexual transmission in women whose sex partners had become infected during travel abroad.

Two of those cases have since been discounted. But two have been confirmed, four others are considered probable cases, and six more are still under investigation.

The CDC has urged pregnant women to avoid travel to nearly three dozen countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean because of concerns they will contract the Zika virus.

Zika infection is also believed to increase the risk of developing Guillain-Barré syndrome, a progressive paralysis from which most people eventually recover.