The number one golfer in the world, Jason Day, announced on June 27, that he is joining the list of athletes sitting out of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics because of concerns regarding the Zika virus.
According to the BBC, Day acknowledges that the danger is small, but he doesn’t want to take any risks, particularly regarding his wife’s future pregnancies.
“Competing at the Olympics has always been a major goal,” said Day, “but golf cannot take precedence over my family.”
The sport of golf, which is making its first appearance at the Olympics in more than 110 years, is losing many of its top athletes for this year’s Olympics.
Day’s announcement comes just a few days after another top-five golfer, and Europe’s number one ranked golfer, Rory McIlroy, announced that the Zika virus is keeping him out of competing in the Olympics as well. Other pro golfers not attending because of Zika concerns are Vijay Singh of Fiji and Marc Leishman of Australia.
The Sacramento Bee reports that researchers still have a lot to learn about the Zika virus, which infected Brazil in 2015 and continues to spread throughout more than 60 countries. The disease is passed through sexual transmission and, more commonly, mosquito bites.
Although the Zika virus only causes minor illness in adults, it can greatly damage unborn children — causing them to have devastating neurological defects.
“There are so many unknowns,” said Dr. Dean Blumberg, infectious disease expert at the University of California Davis. “It comes down to an emotional decision. There really is this potential for grave danger to the fetus, for birth defects. It’s reasonable for them to consider these risks and make these personal decisions.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the World Health Organization, have declared the Olympic games in Rio are safe for anyone to attend — except pregnant women. Additionally, there is some degree of risk, said the CDC and WHO, for couples hoping to conceive.
Olympic medical professionals will have their hands full before, during, and after the 2016 games, as athletes hope certain medications will prevent any issues. In the U.S., four out of five Americans are prescribed antibiotics each year to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
U.S. swimmer Haley Anderson will brave the Zika virus this summer as she plans to compete in Rio in open water swimming. Anderson states that although she will be on alert, she believes the water off Copacabana Beach, where her event will take place, has been cleaned up enough for safety as long as she takes antibiotics and probiotics before the competition.
She still credits the Zika virus with causing a major distraction for her and other athletes, competing or not competing.
“When you have to think about all these other things, it gets frustrating,” said Anderson. “I just want to be worried about training and being the fastest… if you have this doubt in the back of your head, that changes things.”
The 2016 Olympics will begin on August 5 in Rio de Janeiro.