Greg Rutherford: Fearing Zika, Olympian freezes sperm

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Defending Olympic champion British long jumper Greg Rutherford said he is freezing sperm prior to leaving for the Olympic Games in Rio. (Credit: ThinkStock)

The mosquito-borne Zika virus has caused athletes to pull out of the Olympic Games and prompted countries to design special protective uniforms ahead of Rio 2016.

British long jumper Greg Rutherford will be there, but he’s taking no chances, with the defending Olympic champion freezing a sample of his sperm before heading to the Games as a precautionary measure against Zika.

“We’ve also made the decision to have Greg’s sperm frozen,” wrote Rutherford’s wife, Susie Verrill in an article for London’s Evening Standard newspaper. which outlined why she won’t be traveling to Brazil in August.

“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 (are) no real issues should Milo get bitten, it’s just another thing we don’t want to chance,” she added, referring to their son.

Last month, a host of prominent doctors and professors penned an open letter to the World Health Organization (WHO) calling for the Games to be moved or postponed “in the name of public health.”

Despite these concerns, Rio 2016 director of communications Mario Andrada said Tuesday organizers were “110 percent comfortable” they could protect everybody attending the Games.

The International Olympic Committee insists it has no plans to delay or cancel South America’s first Olympics.

“The Zika virus has caused no end of concern, if we’re totally honest,” added Verrill, who cited several reasons why she won’t travel with Rutherford, who is also world and European champion, including the risk of Zika infecting her or Milo.

“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,” she explained.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently confirmed Zika’s link to microcephaly — a birth defect that results in an underdeveloped brain — and is studying its connection to other malformations.

So far there is no vaccination that can ward against the virus.

Brazilian officials have argued the risk of infection is seriously reduced during the Games, because they are being held in the South American winter month of August, when mosquito populations tend to die.

According to Rio’s health secretariat, the number of Zika cases has already declined significantly. According to their figures, the city has seen a total of 26,576 cases of Zika so far this year, with a peak in February of 7,232 cases. In May, there were 702 reported cases.

Verrill stresses that Zika fears are not the only things keeping her away from the Games, pointing to the high cost of travel, the lack of mobility with a young child, and the difficulty in getting good seats .

“Come August, Greg will be traveling to Rio to undertake a job, and I’ll be staying at home,” she writes. “No less supportive than I’d be if I was there with him and with all our loved ones who also want him to succeed.

“And at least from the comfort of our own living room I can see his actual face.”