The spreading Zika virus that has been linked to microcephaly in newborn babies in Brazil and other countries has raised concerns about this summer’s Olympics in Brazil, and that includes concerns from high-profile athletes.
“If I had to make the choice today, I wouldn’t go [to the Olympics],” U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo told SI.com on Monday from Texas, where the U.S. women’s national team opens its Olympic qualifying tournament on Wednesday against Costa Rica (8:30 p.m. ET, NBC Live Extra).
Unlike other Olympic events, which will take place in the Rio de Janeiro area, Olympic soccer will be held in cities outside Rio—Manaus, Salvador, Brasília, Belo Horizonte and São Paulo—some of which have higher rates than Rio of mosquito-borne viruses like Zika, dengue, chikungunya and malaria.
Based on the current knowledge of Zika (and other congenital infections), as long as you don’t try to get pregnant or are pregnant when you have Zika, you can acquire Zika virus as a woman and still have a healthy baby later on, says Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease and public health specialist. But Dr. Gounder suggests waiting at least at least one month after recovering from Zika (and preferably three months) before trying to get pregnant. (Full disclosure: Dr. Gounder is the writer’s wife.)
Solo, who’s married to former NFL player Jerramy Stevens, said she’s aware of that information, but she still feels very uncomfortable with the situation in Brazil.
“I would never take the risk of having an unhealthy child,” said Solo, 34. "I don’t know when that day will come for Jerramy 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.
“We accept these particular choices as part of being a woman, but I do not accept being forced into making the decision between competing for my country and sacrificing the potential health of a child, or staying home and giving up my dreams and goals as an athlete. Competing in the Olympics should be a safe environment for every athlete, male and female alike. Female athletes should not be forced to make a decision that could sacrifice the health of a child.”
Another U.S. women’s soccer player said she was taking a wait-and-see approach on Zika virus and the Olympics.
“The Zika virus is definitely a concern to me,” the player said. “I’m obviously keeping an eye on what’s going on in the news. I do know that it’s spreading and they don’t really have a vaccination to treat it, so it’s definitely worrisome.
“But at the end of the day I think there are a lot of things that come up pre-Olympics that are somewhat concerns, and this is kind of a bigger concern than it was with Beijing and smog and London with potential terrorist attacks. But the place we’re at right now with Olympic qualifying, we’re pretty much focused on that right now, and we’ll track it to see what’s happening. We may be playing in Manaus, which is probably loaded with mosquitoes. But I’m sure our doctors will inform us and keep us in the loop as to what’s going on.”