Spanish basketball star Gasol warns of Zika virus threat in Rio

Madrid, May 30 (IANS) Spanish basketball icon Pau Gasol has expressed fears over the threat the Zika virus poses at the forthcoming Rio Olympic Games and his surprise at the relative lack of concern in Europe over the dangers posed by the mosquito-born illness.

The 35-year-old NBA star, who plays for the Chicago Bulls, is the undoubted leader of the Spanish basketball side who are the reigning European champions and runners-up at the Beijing and London Olympics. As such he is by far the most important Spanish athlete to raise concerns about the threat the Zika virus poses in Rio, reports Xinhua.

Writing in the ‘El Pais’ newspaper, Gasol on Monday said he was surprised by “how few people in Europe are talking about the Zika virus and its consequences. I’m surprised by the lack of coverage in the media and by its absence from public debate,” he said.

“My conclusion is that Zika is a much bigger and more serious threat than we think. We know very little and we aren’t as worried as we should be,” added Gasol, who said the epidemic is “a reality,” which has “been around now for more than a year and has spread to 60 countries.”

Gasol was disappointed that the cases registered in Spain, (which have all been imported from countries where Zika is prevalent) had failed to raise awareness about the problem.

“Few people,” he said, know that Zika can lead to “Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can cause temporary paralysis and be deadly,” or “four out of five can be infected without showing symptoms,” and that it can be “transmitted sexually months after being infected.”

Gasol reminded readers that the WHO has called Zika a “global health emergency” and that “150 experts from around the world have written to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommending that the event be postponed or held in a less exposed city than Rio.”

He described measures that countries are taking to protect athletes as “anecdotal,” and wonders that although the Olympics are the most important event for any athlete, “whether we are putting financial concerns above the health of millions of people around the world?”

“These Olympic Games, the first to be held in South America, could be unforgettable; the risk is that this could be for all the wrong reasons,” added Gasol.



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