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Health Tips for Visitors to Rio for the 2016 Olympics

As we are getting closer to the Rio Olympics in August, there are some  health issues that all visitors need to be aware of and be prepared for:

Water contamination:

one of the biggest criticisms of having the Summer Olympics in Rio has been the quality of the water in the seas and lagoons surrounding the city. The very waters in which athletes will be competing have been horribly polluted in the past and tests seems to continue show that thing haven’t much improved since the games were awarded to the city. Not so apparent is another potentially more dangerous issue: so-called “super bacteria” in the waterway that is resistant to antibiotics. Researchers believe the bacteria entered the bay from raw sewage that has flowed in from tributaries from not only thousands of households in Rio, but also hospitals where the super bug is generally found. Issues with Guanabara Bay along with surrounding beaches were the studied by researchers as part of two studies, which took samples in 2013 and 2014.


Zika virus:

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.


There are a few ways you can look after yourself while out enjoying the Olympics in Rio:

–          try to dress in a way that covers most of your body (long sleeves, long trousers) and use a repellant infusion to ward off Zika-carrying mosquitoes)

–          drink only bottled water

What is the current medical advice if I think I have Zika virus?

The Harley Street Health Centre is now offering PCR testing for Zika virus. A definitive diagnosis for this virus can only be made on the basis of laboratory testing and the turnaround time is around 9 days for PCR or 5 days for antibodies.   Transmitted through mosquitoes, in most cases, Zika virus infection causes a mild self-limited illness. Symptoms last for up to one week after being bitten. Time from exposure to symptoms is 3 – 12 days. Around 80% of Zika virus infection cases are likely to go unnoticed. Symptoms of rash, muscle and joint pain and conjunctivitis typically predominate and usually occur within 2 weeks after travel to a Zika virus affected area. The incubation period is typically between 2 – 7 days.


There is now no doubt that Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause adverse pregnancy and birth outcomes. Reports of sexual transmission, or suspected infection, in symptomatic patients without travel history and other new claims will continue to expand and more and more evidence becomes available about Zika virus, and key questions relating to risk are addressed.


There have been reported cases of sexual transmission with the virus spreading to people who have no visited affected countries. It is not known exactly how long Zika virus is present in the semen of men who have been infected, nor is it known how long after exposure Zika virus can be sexually transmitted from a male partner.


The current advice is:


– Symptomatic pregnant women in any trimester with a positive travel history should undergo testing

– Asymptomatic pregnant women in any trimester, with a positive travel history at 2 – 12 weeks should undergo testing

– Advice to men who have travelled in Zika areas, or who have had the Zika virus, is to use condoms if their partner is pregnant or might become pregnant for 28 days if asymptomatic and 6 months if symptoms develop.


During the first week after onset of symptoms, Zika virus disease can often be diagnosed by performing reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Antibody testing is suitable after 7 days. PCR testing for Zika virus is reported as extremely sensitive and specific. However, due to the short period of viremia, samples must be collected within 7 days of the onset of symptoms. Serological tests may indicate the presence of anti-Zika virus IgM and IgG antibodies. Caution is needed with serological results as IgM cross-reactivity is possible with similar mosquito vector infections.

If you have travelled to Rio and/or are worried about Zika virus, contact either clinic for an appointment with one of our GPs and we will help ensure you receive appropriate testing and care.

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