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Olympic Athletic Trainers Prepare for the Zika Virus with Complex Prevention and Early Detection

Posted August 8, 2016

Erin Chapman, MS, LAT, ATC

By Erin Chapman, MS, LAT, ATC

The summer months for Athletic Trainers (ATs) are often a time to re-energize, visit with friends and family or work summer camps. However, since it is an Olympic year, some of our fellow ATs have traveled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to assist the United States elite athletes.

The location of the Summer Olympics has brought unique challenges to ATs. Many ATs have spent a lot of time learning and preparing to keep the athletes safe. One of these challenges is the current Zika virus outbreak in parts of South, Central and North America. The best defense ATs have against Zika or any contagious disease is to know more about it. Here is some important information medical professionals should know about Zika.

The Zika virus is a flavivirus (Petersen et al., 2016) and is transmitted from mosquito to human, human-mosquito-human, mother to fetus during pregnancy and sexual transmission (male to partner). Patients testing positive for Zika virus have reported the following symptoms: conjunctivitis, rash, arthralgia, fever, myalgia, headache, retro-orbital pain, edema, vomiting or a combination of symptoms. The adverse fetal outcomes from mother to fetus transmission are not completely known; however, Zika virus RNA has been found in the amniotic fluid of fetuses and newborns with microcephaly. An unknown incubation period makes the diagnosis and prevention of Zika virus challenging.

Zika virus is diagnosed using the RT-PCR and IgM-capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Currently, the treatment of Zika virus is focused on symptoms since there is no Zika virus vaccine. Thus, prevention and control measures center on avoiding mosquito bites, reducing sexual transmission and controlling the mosquito vector.

Ultimately, it is a complex prevention and early detection approach that will help protect the Olympic elite athlete community. Such steps will most likely be taken to reduce the chances of being infected with Zika virus; however, more research still needs to be done in this area to understand this virus better.

As healthcare professionals, we should have a good foundational knowledge regarding different illnesses especially while traveling to other countries. Zika may not affect us; however, the unknowns of this virus and its effect on us here in the United States should influence professional learning behavior. The athletic training profession emphasizes prevention and the steps to prevent, diagnose and treat; thus Zika virus prevention and treatment ought to be our approach to new challenges in our clinical settings.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides up-to-date recommendations for those traveling to Brazil. These recommendations are constantly updated as more information is gathered and should be checked frequently for any changes.

What can travelers do to prevent Zika?

As mentioned previously, there is no vaccine or medicine that can prevent Zika virus. Travelers can protect themselves by preventing mosquito bites http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/avoid-bug-bites):

- Cover exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants.

- Use EPA-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (also known as OLE, para-menthane-diol or PMD) or IR3535. Always use as directed.

- Pregnant and breastfeeding women can use all EPA-registered insect repellents, including DEET, according to the product label.

- Most repellents, including DEET, can be used on children older than 2 months.

- OLE should not be used on children younger than 3 years.

- Use permethrin-treated clothing and gear such as boots, pants, socks and tents. You can buy pre-treated clothing and gear or treat them yourself.

- Stay in places with air conditioning and window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.

- Sleep under a mosquito bed net if air conditioned or screened rooms are not available or if sleeping outdoors.

- Mosquito netting can be used to cover babies younger than 2 months old in carriers, strollers or cribs.

- Sexual transmission of Zika virus from a man is possible. If you have sex (vaginal, anal or oral) with a man while traveling, you should use condoms.

Petersen, L. R., Jamieson, D. J., Powers, A. M., & Honein, M. A. (2016). Zika virus. New England Journal of Medicine, 374(16), 1552-1563

About the Author

Erin Chapman started working for The College at Brockport as an Athletic Trainer (AT) in March of 2010. She completed her bachelor’s degree in Athletic Training/Exercise Science at Ithaca College in 2007, and her master’s degree in Human Movement at A.T. Still University in 2009. She is working toward a doctorate in Athletic Training at the University of Idaho. Chapman's research interests are in breathing pattern disorders in the physically active population and concussion education in intercollegiate athletics.

As an AT, Chapman assists Golden Eagles athletes by working with field hockey; men’s and women’s basketball; men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor track and field; and men’s lacrosse. Prior to working for The College at Brockport, Erin spent two-and-a-half years as the Head AT and biology teacher at the Winchendon School in Winchendon, Massachusetts. Chapman is a BOC Certified AT and licensed in New York state.