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Sports and Tourism in the Zika Era

24 Aug, 2016

By: Michael Popke
From Travel Warnings to Athletes who Froze Zika-Free Sperm, the Industry is Reacting

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel advisory for pregnant women and their partners to avoid all non-essential travel to Miami-Dade County, Fla., if they are even slightly concerned about the Zika virus.

The announcement made an already rapidly expanding Zika-related travel alert list even longer. The Cayman Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, and Turks and Caicos also were add last week, joining Anguilla, Aruba, Barbados, Belize, Bonaire, Cuba, Curacao, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, French Guiana, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Puerto Rico, Saba; St. Barts, St. Eustatius, St. Lucia, St. Maarten/Martin, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

According to reports, at least one million people have been infected or diagnosed with the mosquito-borne virus since its major reemergence in March 2015. The virus is particularly dangerous in pregnant women, as medical professionals say it can cause brain damage in developing infants.

The clustered outbreak has thrown for a loop Florida’s travel industry — already reeling from the Orlando nightclub massacre and news of a 2-year-old boy falling prey to an alligator at Walt Disney World. With the announcement that Zika was in town, sports planners had to go into crisis mode.

“We have a safe state!” declared Florida Gov. Rick Scott from the epicenter of the Zika outbreak in Miami’s Wynwood district, according to Meetings & Conventions magazine, which notes that visitors spent $89 billion in the state last year.

But Florida officials need to get Zika under control fast, according to Henry Hartveldt, founder of the San Francisco-based travel-industry’s Atmosphere Research Group. “If Florida is able to address this efficiently and quickly and be able to pronounce with confidence that they’ve been able to eradicate, there won’t be long-term consequences,” he told the magazine. “If Zika remains a long-term challenge, it’s possible some potential tourists might think twice.”

Here are a few examples of how the sports world is handling the Zika virus:

  • A Florida based repellent company, Sawyer Products, has distributed 60 bottles of Permethrin, an odorless product that keeps mosquitoes away, to the U.S. Men’s and Women’s Soccer Teams.

  • In May (before the Zika outbreak hit Miami), Major League Baseball moved the two-game Florida Marlins-Pittsburgh Pirates series scheduled for San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Miami.

  • At the recently completed 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio, which several athletes (including a slew of golfers) skipped because of Zika, South Korea’s Zika-proof uniforms were treated with insecticide, and everything athletes wore in Rio had long pants and long-sleeve shirts. 

Overall, the virus appeared to have a negligible impact on the Rio Games. “It is winter in Brazil, which means it is not peak breeding for mosquitoes,” The Chicago Tribune reported. “Cool temperatures and an abundance of wind also have reduced the presence of mosquitoes.”

Still, you can never be too safe. John Speraw, the 44-year-old coach of the U.S. men’s indoor volleyball team, froze his Zika-free sperm before leaving for Rio, because “my wife and I would like to have another kid, and I’m no spring chicken,” he told The New York Times.

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