Sun, Feb 21, 2016 - Page 19 News List

Olympian ‘contracted’ Zika in Rio


Marina Alabau, a Spanish windsurfer and a gold medalist at the 2012 London Olympics, stands by her board in Eliat, Israel, on Friday.

Photo: AP

Spanish Olympic gold medalist Marina Alabau says that she contracted the Zika virus while training in Brazil in December last year, suffering painful symptoms in an experience that the wind surfer said will not stop her from competing in the Rio Games in August.

In a phone interview with the Associated Press, Alabau described symptoms that her doctor said were in line with Zika, a virus that the WHO has deemed an “international health emergency.”

She is currently competing at the RS: X World Championship in Israel.

Brazil is an epicenter of Zika, and fear about the virus could scare fans and some athletes from traveling to the South American country for its first Olympics. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and sports authorities preparing for hundreds of thousands of visitors to the country have said the Games are to be held as scheduled in August.

Despite some very difficult days after getting Zika, the 30-year-old Alabau nevertheless has urged her fellow athletes not to worry.

“There is too much alarm surrounding this. I had the virus and it was not that bad. I did not even go to the hospital,” she said.

Alabau said that she came down with a fever while training in Rio de Janeiro in December last year. It would pass within 24 hours, but other symptoms soon followed.

“Then my whole body turned red and everything itched. Two days later, my joints started aching,” she said. “First it was in the fingers, then my wrists and finally my ankles. It was then that I decided to return to Spain because I was a little worried.”

Alabau said she was not tested for Zika at the time because it seemed like a common bug that her body would eventually defeat. However, she said she would get tested when she is back in Spain in early March. Normally, the virus does not stay in the blood more than several weeks, so it is unclear whether it will show up when she does a test next month.

Bruce Aylward, the WHO’s executive director for outbreaks and health emergencies, on Friday said that the mosquito population is expected to drop off around when Rio hosts the Games, because it will be winter in the southern hemisphere. He told a news conference in Geneva that Rio’s Olympic venues are in a relatively confined area, making it easier to control the mosquitoes.

“Brazil is going to have a fantastic Olympics and it is going to be a successful Olympics and the world is going to go there,” Aylward said.

Carmen Vaz, the Spanish wind surfing federation doctor who diagnosed Alabau, said that the Zika diagnosis was based on the athlete’s symptoms and not on blood work. She said that without blood work, other mosquito-borne illnesses with similar symptoms, such as dengue fever or chikingunya, could not be ruled out.

“At the time, the Zika tests were not available in Spain, as alarm over the virus had not taken hold,” she wrote in an e-mail exchange.

Vaz added that she and Alabau had decided to come forward with what had happened to the athlete to “help lower the social alarm that has taken hold, which in our view has been excessive.”

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