WTO issues advice for Carib travelers to the Olympics

The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued health advice for Caribbean and other travelers to the 2016 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games that take place in Rio de Janeiro 2016, Brazil from Aug. 5-21 and Sept. 7-18, respectively.

Five additional cities will be hosting matches of the Olympic football tournament РBelo Horizonte, Brasilia, Manaus, Salvador and Ṣo Paulo.

WHO said the recommendations are intended to advise national health authorities and health care providers about practices and measures for travelers visiting Brazil to stay safe and healthy.

Before departure, travelers should be advised about health risks in the areas they plan to visit and related preventive practices and measures to minimize the probability of acquiring diseases and of having accidents, said WHO, adding that travelers to Brazil should consult the travel advice issued by their national authorities.

WHO urged that a medical consultation be scheduled as early as possible before travel but at least four to eight weeks before departure “in order to allow sufficient time for immunization schedules to be completed for both routine vaccines and vaccines indicated according to the specific destinations.

“Even when departure is imminent, there is still time to provide both advice and some vaccines,” WHO said.

It said travelers should be vaccinated according to their national immunization schedule, which will vary from one country to another.

Routine immunization schedules, established by national authorities, include vaccination against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, measles, hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenzae type b and, in many countries, additional diseases such as rubella, mumps, flu, yellow fever, human papillomavirus, and rotavirus and pneumococcal diseases.

Since July 2015, WHO said Brazil has interrupted measles transmission, following an outbreak associated with an imported case.

As measles is still endemic or circulating in many countries, measles vaccinations should be up to date to prevent importation of the virus to Brazil, WHO said.

It said similar considerations apply for rubella, which was eliminated from Brazil in 2009.

Noting that wild poliovirus has been eliminated from Brazil since 1989, WHO said in order to prevent the re-introduction of polio into Brazil, travelers from countries where polio cases have recently occurred should be fully immunized.

For travelers at risk of serious complications of influenza, WHO said vaccination should be considered.

WHO recommends seasonal influenza vaccination for pregnant women, the elderly, individuals with specific chronic medical conditions, children aged 6-59 months, and healthcare workers.

WHO advices pregnant women not to travel to the Olympics or any area where Zika virus is circulating.

It said the influenza strain currently circulating in Brazil, A(H1N1)pdm09, is included in both the northern hemisphere 2015-2016 and the southern hemisphere 2016 vaccines.

The Olympic and Paralympic Games will take place after the influenza season in Rio de Janeiro is expected to have peaked in June and July; however, there are regional variations and cases occur throughout the year in Brazil, WHO said.

At-risk travelers should ideally receive influenza vaccine at least two weeks prior to departure, WHO said.

Depending on the specific travel itinerary, WHO said additional vaccines might be considered for some travelers, adding that unvaccinated travelers be offered such vaccines in accordance to their national recommendations.

WHO said Zika virus infection usually causes a mild disease, and many cases of Zika virus infection are asymptomatic.

However, following an outbreak of Zika virus in Brazil in 2015 and its subsequent spread in the Americas, including the Caribbean, WHO said an unusual increase in serious neurological disorders was seen in the off-springs of pregnant women who had been infected, including cases of microcephaly and congenital neurological malformations.

Cases of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), a rare but serious form of muscle weakness, were observed among adults, WHO said.

Based on a growing body of research, WHO said there is scientific consensus that Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome. Zika virus is primarily spread by mosquitoes, though sexual transmission has increasingly been documented, WHO said.

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