Zika virus fears of sports stars as Rio Games loom
Sports stars from Northern Ireland who are gearing up for this summer's Rio Olympics have spoken of their fears over the Zika virus which is sweeping through Brazil.
The athletes are set to receive a dossier from the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) outlining the dangers of the virus, that has been linked to serious birth defects.
The virus is spread to people through mosquito bites and has been linked to babies being born with underdeveloped brains.
Deaths are thought to be rare, and only one-in-five people infected is thought to develop symptoms, which include fever, conjunctivitis, headache, joint pain and a rash.
The World Health Organization has declared the Zika virus a global public health emergency.
OCI chief executive Stephen Martin said: "Our medical team met the Department of Foreign Affairs and Department of Health.
"They will be forwarding comprehensive information and guidance documents to team leaders, support staff and athletes on our Rio longlist," added the Ulsterman, who won an Olympic gold medal with the Great Britain hockey team at the 1988 Seoul Olympics to go with a bronze from Los Angeles four years earlier.
Northern Ireland is expected to have more than 30 competitors at the Rio Games - the province's highest ever representation.
Aileen Reid competed for Ireland at London 2012 in triathlon and is a medal contender for Rio.
She is aware of the dangers posed by the virus.
Aileen, from Londonderry, said: "I know about the Zika situation. It seems the major concern would be for people who are trying to have a baby.
"That's going to affect a lot of the athletes because what you tend to find is that in the year after an Olympic Games many athletes have babies and take a break well in advance of the next Olympics.
"So it will affect both male and female athletes who are trying for a baby."
As for possible medication to combat the virus, Aileen (33) said: "I really don't want to be taking any medication that I don't absolutely have to. You don't want to take anything that might affect your performance after four years of preparation."
Aileen - whose event comprises a run, a cycle race and a sea swim - took part in an Olympic test event in Rio last year. "We were informed that the water quality for the swim was not the best but we were promised moves are afoot to have everything up to scratch for the Olympics in the summer," she explained.
"As far as I am concerned, the Zika virus is just another obstacle we have to prepare for."
Sally Brown is gearing up for a crack at the Paralympics in Brazil in September as a member of Team GB.
Ballykelly athlete Sally (20), who competed at London 2012, said: "The Zika virus is obviously a concern but I'm sure the authorities in Rio are on top of things, as are Team GB at this end.
"I have heard the areas around the stadiums and athletes' accommodation will be sprayed so I am not getting too worried about it.
"Athletes put in four years of hard work for the Games, so I am sure all possible precautions will be taken."