The Olympics might be postponed because of a massive health crisis

Even though Brazil has been preparing for the Olympic Games, set to begin in August, for a long time, the outbreak of the mosquito-carried Zika virus in South America is posing a major health risk. The Canadian public health professor and lawyer Amir Attaran posted an article to the Harvard Public Health Review this week, warning that the virus could transform into a “global catastrophe” if the Olympics commence as scheduled.

Attaran anticipates that hundreds of thousands of unknowingly infected tourists and athletes could spread the virus when they return home, and then it’s a problem on a mass scale. The Zika virus is fairly easily spread, too, through sexual contact and from pregnant mothers to their fetus. Clearly, it’s a huge threat to couples and sexual partners of anyone infected.

He further stresses the fact that the Zika virus is even more dangerous than scientists previously understood, and that the best solution is for the Olympic and Paralympic Games to be postponed for precaution. Apparently, he’s not the only one who’s concerned. The U.S. Olympic Committee has told athletes that if the Games do happen in Brazil this August, they should consider skipping them if they’re worried about contracting the virus.

This poses an incredibly difficult problem for athletes, many of whom are very ambitious and have been training for the Olympics for years, if not decades. In the case of some sports where youth is all but a requirement, like gymnastics, the Rio Games may pose their only chance to win an Olympic medal. But is the dream of gold worth the troubling risks of the disease? There are no vaccines, preventative drugs, or treatments once the illness is contracted — the Zika virus is still quite mysterious, though more information is being discovered about it every day. Health and safety first is a good rule of thumb, we’ll have to wait an see if athletes and Olympic officials agree.