- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The National Institutes of Health said Tuesday it plans to monitor Olympic athletes, coaches and staff for exposure to the Zika virus during the Summer Games in Brazil, calling it an “unique opportunity” to study the mosquito-borne outbreak at its epicenter.

Researchers want to enroll at least 1,000 men and women for the study, which will persistently test participants from the U.S. Olympic Committee for the presence of Zika or similar viruses, such as dengue. Frequent testing is necessary, the NIH said, because four out of five people do not exhibit symptoms of Zika infection.

The study will track how long the virus persists in certain bodily fluids, and the outcomes among those who reproduce, since Zika is known to cause birth defects.

“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. 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,” said Dr. Carrie L. Byington of the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, who will lead the study with funding from NIH.

Olympic officials are forging ahead with the games in Rio de Janeiro from Aug. 5-29, despite concerns over Zika and lingering economic and political problems in Brazil.

Noted golfer Rory McIlroy and others have pulled out, however, citing Zika.

A $1.1 billion effort to combat Zika through the pursuit of a vaccine, mosquito control and access to women’s health services in Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland is hung up amid partisan bickering in the Senate.

Senate Democrats filibustered last week to block the package, saying it didn’t provide enough money and should have funded Planned Parenthood clinics.

GOP leaders say they will give Democrats one more shot to rally around the package before departing for a seven-week summer break.

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