Zika and Birth Defects: What it Means to Sports | Sports Destination Management

Zika and Birth Defects: What it Means to Sports

Jun 29, 2016 | By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Caution, Worry on Part of Athletes and Parents at the Same Time as a Rise in Popularity of Outdoor Sports

The recent release of a report by The Centers for Disease Control on Zika-caused birth defects and pregnancy losses in the United States has brought up questions about the safety of outdoor events this summer – not the least of which are sports.

As of June 9, three infants had been born in the United States with birth defects and another three had been lost in pregnancy due to the virus, according to lab evidence, according to the US Zika Pregnancy Registry established by the CDC.

While statistically, those are small numbers, the information has resonated deeply as the U.S. heads into a summer of largely outdoor sports. As the virus continues to migrate upward from South America, the industry has noted concerns could curb participation in outdoor activities this summer, but could also spur sales of certain products meant to ward off mosquitoes and/or keep them from biting.

On June 9, the CDC released Zika prevention tips for people engaging in outdoor activities; these included:

  • Using insect repellents with DEET, picaridin, IR3535, OLE or PMD;

  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants;

  • Wearing gear treated with pemethrin;

  • Sleeping in tents (or under mosquito netting.)

The report comes at a time when the outdoor sports industry is starting to announce a number of gains. The North American Camping Report noted gains across all demographics, but particularly where minorities (a demographic not courted previously) were concerned. In addition, participation was up among minorities in outdoor sports including fishing, hunting and gun-related sports. Other sectors of the outdoor market, such as boating, trail running, mountain biking and more were also reporting overall growth in participation.

So while Zika may present some bad news for those sports, the juxtaposition of products, clothing and gear meant to help keep those mosquitoes away may help make athletes and parents feel more comfortable about participation.

Oddly, Zika has already influenced sports fashion, at least to a point; earlier this spring, South Korea unveiled its anti-Zika uniforms for athletes to wear at the Games. And while Rio remains an area of specific concern, the domino effect continues.

Within the U.S., the repercussions of the CDC’s report – and of fears of Zika in general – will certainly influence the commerce of sports events. Insect repellants may find themselves courted for potential sponsorship status; at the very least, we may see tubes or cans of products appearing on merchandise and apparel shelves next to hats, shirts and pennants. Commercial mosquito control companies may also begin experiencing an uptick of business, based on their ability to market to event owners and rights holders.

The potential spread of the disease is something for which there is no template, therefore making it impossible to map, track and predict. An article in the New Hampshire Union Leader noted,

“Researchers used two models to simulate weather conditions and the mosquitoes' life cycle across 50 cities in the United States, according to the paper, published in PLOS Currents Outbreaks. Andrew Monaghan, an NCAR scientist, was lead author of the paper. The insects, known to thrive in urban areas, rely on warm temperatures and water-filled containers such as buckets, barrels and old tires in order to hatch their eggs,” the study said. “The research suggests those conditions started to become favorable across the Southeastern U.S. and parts of Arizona in April. By June, all 50 cities in the study had the potential for being home to at least some mosquitoes, including St. Louis and Denver, where the insect hasn't been detected yet.”

But officials say any widespread fear over Zika is misplaced. In most cases, they add, individuals who take the same precautions they would against any other mosquito-borne disease, such as West Nile Virus, will emerge from the summer unscathed.

About the Author