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Tracking the Zika Virus at the Olympics

The National Institutes of Health announced today that it will fund a study to monitor members of the United States Olympic Committee for the Zika virus in preparation for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Brazil next month and the Paralympic Games in September.

The study seeks to better understand where and for how long the virus lingers in the body’s blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and saliva. Researchers will routinely test bodily fluid samples for the virus from the at least 1,000 men and women set to participate—mostly athletes, coaches, and other USOC staff. They hope to study both asymptomatic and symptomatic infections (as many as 80 percent of adults infected with Zika never present any symptoms).

The study will track reproductive outcomes following the Olympic Games as well. Spouses and sexual partners of USOC staff traveling to Brazil may also be eligible to participate in the study, according to the NIH. In a pilot study conducted by the USOC and the University of Utah earlier this year, about one-third of the 150 participants noted that either they or their partner planned to become pregnant within a year of the Games.

“We partnered with the USOC to improve knowledge of the dynamics of Zika infection, so that we can better protect the health of athletes and staff who will participate in the 2016 Games,” Carrie L. Byington, a doctor and researcher at the University of Utah-Salt Lake City, said in a statement on Tuesday. Byington is leading the NIH’s study. “This ongoing relationship also opens avenues for long-term research that promises to benefit not only the Americas, but also other regions facing the emergence of the virus.”