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Here's A Quick Zika Explainer For Anyone Headed To Rio

Let us help you avoid infection.

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With the Olympics quickly approaching this week, the one thing that seems to be on everyone’s minds isn’t the world-class athleticism that’s about to go down in Rio...

Nope. Instead, everyone’s talking about the Zika virus.

So much so that athletes from around the world — mostly golfers, but also basketball players and cyclists — have given up their chance at winning gold over concerns that they might get infected. Meanwhile, lots of other spectators getting ready to fly down are probably wondering, “Is it really worth the risk?”

The answer: It depends. There are definitely some things to consider before going to a country where Zika is especially prevalent. Even if your front row seat to the games is on your living room couch, this list will help you understand what’s really going on with Zika in Rio.

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1. Stay home if you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant soon.

Mario Tama / Getty Images / Via gettyimages.com

Please, please, please don’t go. Trust us, you’re better off skipping out on this one. And that’s because the Zika virus poses the highest risk to women who are pregnant or may soon become pregnant.

“The [main] concern is that if a pregnant woman gets infected, it increases the risk of a very specific kind of birth defect called microcephaly,” Dr. Pritish Tosh, an infectious disease expert with the Mayo Clinic told BuzzFeed Health. A baby is born with microcephaly when their brain doesn’t fully develop during pregnancy, which places them at a higher risk for developmental delays and intellectual disabilities, among other health issues.

Health experts still aren’t exactly sure of how many Zika-infected pregnant women go on to have kids with microcephaly, but studies have shown a direct link between Zika infection and the birth defect. Tosh says that the risk is significant enough for the CDC to recommend all pregnant women avoid traveling to areas with Zika unless absolutely necessary.

2. If you’re not pregnant, you’re (mostly) good.

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For men and women who don’t plan on having kids anytime soon, “the impact of the Zika virus on you is probably going to be very minimal,” Tosh said. In fact, about 80% of people who become infected “have absolutely no symptoms whatsoever.”

Aside from the risks it poses to pregnant women, it’s in the same class as other viral infections you’d normally get from mosquitos, including dengue, West Nile, and yellow fever, Dr. Daniel Eiras, MPH, Associate Hospital Epidemiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center told BuzzFeed Health.

Dealing with it will probably still suck — for those who do have symptoms, it can cause fever, rash, and joint pain — but it won’t cause any long-term health consequences. That goes for Guillain-Barré syndrome too, which Tosh said only about "a few in a million" people will develop.

3. But keep in mind that being in a Zika-affected area means you need to be careful for the next few weeks/months.

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While Zika only stays in the bloodstream for a week or two, it might remain in bodily fluids for much longer. The CDC is still testing this, but so far it's found that the virus remains in men's semen the longest, and one case of female-to-male transmission suggests it can be found in women's vaginal secretions too. Either way, this makes it possible to transmit the virus to someone who may become pregnant.

According to the CDC, Zika can be transmitted through vaginal, anal, and oral sex as well as from sharing sex toys. It can also be passed before, during, and after symptoms appear, which means it's probably best to use condoms and other barrier protection just in case, Eiras said.

The CDC recommends:

* Anyone who returns from the Olympics without symptoms of the virus should wait eight weeks before having sex without condoms or trying to get pregnant.

* For men who have had symptoms, wait at least six months before having sex without condoms, especially if you're trying to have a child.

* For women who have had symptoms, wait at least eight weeks before trying to have a baby.

4. Your actual risk of getting Zika is probably low.

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“We believe visitors to the games are expected to have a … reduced risk of getting Zika from mosquitos because the games are occurring in the winter season, when cooler temperatures and drier air typically reduce mosquito populations,” Dr. Marty Cetron, director of the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, said in a press call last week.

This comes from studying decades of dengue transmission from the same Aedes aegypti mosquito, which also spreads Zika. Historically, he said, there’s usually about a 90% reduction in new infections in Rio, thanks in part to the “strong seasonality in the southern parts of Brazil.”

A recent study from Yale University considered a worst-case scenario where visitors experienced the same living conditions as local residents, and found that even then, only about 1 to 60 of the 350,000 to 500,000 people visiting Rio for the games would become infected. Sixteen or less would show symptoms.

In addition to this seasonal advantage, Eiras said the Brazilian government has also been fumigating the city and getting rid of areas where standing water can collect.

5. But you should obviously be vigilant about avoiding mosquitos as much as possible.

Miguel Schincariol / AFP / Getty Images / Via gettyimages.com

Mainly by staying in rooms with air conditioners or screens — you’ll never appreciate these more than in this moment. Besides that, you can also take steps to prevent bug bites in general. Wear long sleeves and long pants (preferably treated with permethrin), and use bug sprays containing DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus.

Also keep in mind that the Aedes aegypti mosquitos are “aggressive daytime biters” that thrive in urban environments, and that “any place where there is a high congregation of humans could potentially increase risk of biting,” Eiras said. In other words, you need to be armed in this battle against whatever winter-surviving mosquitos there are.

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6. There are other health risks you should know about.

Felipe Dana / AP / Via apimages.com

As BuzzFeed News previously reported, there are plenty of other risks that are more concerning for travelers to Rio, like the flu, crime, or water-borne illnesses.

Aside from Zika, Cetron said visitors to Rio are more likely to come down with some kind of gastrointestinal illness, whether it’s nausea and vomiting or full-on travelers diarrhea. Rio has long struggled with raw sewage and garbage flowing from storm drains into Guanabara Bay and the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, where sailing and rowing races will take place during the games. According to the World Health Organization, this water is full of bacteria and viruses, including E. coli and Salmonella typhi, which causes typhoid fever.

To reduce your risk, the CDC suggests eating food that’s cooked and served hot; eating raw fruit only if it can be peeled or washed with clean water; and not drinking tap water, drinks with ice, or drinks diluted with tap water. Cetron said some people also like to carry around Pepto Bismol and “maybe some antibiotics. And if you’re unsure of which foods are safe to eat, download the CDC’s Can I Eat This? app.

7. If you haven’t gotten immunized, now’s the time. Like, right now.

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That includes making sure you’re up to date on all your routine vaccines, like MMR, polio, and flu, but also Hepatitis A, typhoid, and yellow fever, among others. While yellow fever is mosquito-borne, Hepatitis A and typhoid can both be spread through contaminated food and water.

If you haven’t gotten any shots yet, then you’re already running short on time considering you should get vaccinated four to six weeks prior to leaving to “allow protective immunity to kick in,” Cetron said. However, he also noted that some vaccines may take as little as two weeks, and that “it’s always better to have some vaccination than nothing at all.” So talk to your doctor or visit a travel health clinic for advice.

8. Zika prevention doesn’t end when you get on the plane back home.

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As of July 27, there were 1,657 travel-associated cases of Zika in the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy, US Surgeon General, said in the press call. That means each of those people acquired Zika in another country and then traveled back to the US — not that they were infected by a local mosquito in the US.

That said, Florida Governor Rick Scott announced on Monday that the Wynwood area of Miami has seen several cases of locally acquired Zika, BuzzFeed News previously reported. According to the Florida Department of Health, that number is now up to 15 cases. So be sure to read any travel advisories and talk to your doctor if you're concerned.

To prevent further spread, the CDC asks everyone who’s traveled to a Zika-affected country to continue preventing mosquito bites for three weeks after they get back home. Reminder: that includes wearing permethrin-treated long-sleeve shirts and pants, using bug repellents, and getting rid of any standing water — Aedes mosquitos can even breed in the water inside a bottle cap, Cetron said.

If all that’s taken care of, you’re probably going to have a fuckin blast.

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“Just because there’s Zika in Brazil, for a man or a non-pregnant woman, that’s not a reason to not go there,” Eiras said. “There are plenty of other viruses that have been and still are in Brazil, and those weren’t reasons to not go there before. So when patients ask me if they should go to the Olympics, I say, ‘Yes, go!’ Enjoy it, have a good time, and be safe.”

After all, you're about to have a front row seat to one of the world's greatest competitions.

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