Many of the US athletes arriving in Rio are not only participating in the Olympic games, they’re taking part in a research study about the Zika virus. A professor at the University of Utah is heading up that effort.
Pediatrics Professor Carrie Byington is chair of the Infectious Disease Advisory Group for the US Olympic Committee. The group was created to help protect the US team from Zika, but also to study the virus. She’s just returned from Houston, Texas, where Olympic athletes, coaches and staff agreed to be test subjects.
“I really credit all of those in the Olympic Committee, who - at this incredibly intense moment of their lives - are taking time out to participate and to contribute new knowledge,” Byington says. A research team took blood samples from several hundred people heading to Rio, and they will test them again after they return. The group will study those who have Zika antibodies in their blood for two years.
“There are many questions that remain about Zika virus, particularly how long does it last in the human body.” Byington says there has been very little study of the duration of the virus in the reproductive tracts of women. “We think that’s very important information, not only for those who are participating, but for all of us who live in the United States, where Zika virus is now actively being transmitted in the state of Florida, and also for those who live in other Zika affected countries.”
Byington says it’s critical for the US to invest in research, particularly in developing a vaccine and treatments. “We cannot wait for pregnant women to become infected and for their unborn children to become affected with Zika virus microcephaly.” She believes Zika will soon be transmitted in more Southeastern US states.