An Olympic gold medalist is planning to freeze his sperm before he ventures down to Rio de Janeiro to compete in this year’s games.
British long jumper Greg Rutherford also doesn’t plan on bringing his girlfriend or their young daughter due to the ongoing health risks posed by the virus.
In a column for Standard Issue, Rutherford’s partner Susie Verrill explained that the growing concern among members of the medical community was a “huge factor” in their decision to watch the games from their home in the UK.
“The Zika news has caused no end of concern if we’re totally honest,” Verrill wrote. “We’re not ones to worry unnecessarily, but after more than 100 medical experts stressed the Games should be moved to prevent the disease from spreading, this was a huge factor in us choosing to stay put.”
Recently, more than 150 health experts signed a letter calling for the games to be moved from Rio due to the risk of spreading Zika and turning it into a global contagion. The World Health Organization reports 1,046 confirmed cases of Zika in Brazil, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that several birth defects can occur if a pregnant woman is bitten by an infected mosquito.
The Zika virus, which is also be transmitted sexually, can infect a man’s sperm for an unknown amount of time. Experts say that men ought to be more concerned about traveling to countries with a known Zika outbreak. Women, unless they are pregnant or get pregnant soon after being exposed to the virus, run little risk of transmitting it to their children.
Health risks have spurred Rutherford to freeze his sperm in order to prevent transmitting the disease to children they hope to have.
“We’ve also made the decision to have Greg’s sperm frozen. We’d love to have more children and with research in its infancy, I wouldn’t want to put myself in a situation which could have been prevented. Specialists still also don’t know the ins and outs of Zika, so even though it looks as though there’s no real issues should Milo get bitten, it’s just another thing we don’t want to chance.”
Other athletes have expressed similar concern about the health risks. US goalkeeper Hope Solo has said that she doesn’t plan to compete in the games if the disease is still out of control.
“I would never take the risk of having an unhealthy child,” Solo said. “I do not accept being forced into making the decision between competing for my country and sacrificing the potential health of a child, or staying home and giving up my dreams and goals as an athlete. Competing in the Olympics should be a safe environment for every athlete, male and female alike. Female athletes should not be forced to make a decision that could sacrifice the health of a child.”