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WVU experts warn of possible health and safety risks at 2016 Olympics in Rio

Every four years, the Olympic Games arrive on the international scene to great fanfare. But, this year’s Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil have been surrounded by a myriad of negative attention. The issues facing this year’s Olympics have ranged from widespread fear of the Zika virus, to poor water quality, and threats of terrorism.

Mark Lambert, the director of the West Virginia University Extension Fire Service, warns that first responders should be trained to expect and be aware of anything that could occur during the Olympics.

“Responders should be trained in the reading of facial expressions, body language, and the mannerisms and dress of those in attendance,” Lambert says. This is complicated, however, by the diverse group of attendees at an international event such as the Olympics. “Emergency responders will be interacting with customs and cultures from all over the globe, but it is not an impossible task,” he adds.

Lambert notes that spectators need to help out as well. They should constantly be on the lookout for anything suspicious or unusual during the Games. “If you see something, say something,” he says. Lambert can be reached by phone at 304.406.7479, or by email mark.lambert@mail.wvu.edu.

In addition to terrorism, the Zika virus continues to be a health concern for those travelling to tropical areas, especially pregnant women. The mosquito-borne virus has been linked to microcephaly, a birth defect among babies of pregnant mothers infected by Zika, and its discovery in Brazil last year led to concern over the Games, which are expected to attract some 500,000 visitors.

Kathryn Moffett, M.D., a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases with WVU Medicine, recently shared a brief Q&A regarding the questions and uncertainty surrounding Zika. She stresses that those who make the journey to tropical areas take extreme caution, and adhere to recommended precautions to prevent against mosquito bites. Moffett’s full Q&A can be found here: http://go.wvu.edu/2aJxPEC.

Jason Hubbart, a professor and director of the Institute for Water Security and Science at WVU, has serious concerns about the poor water quality in Rio and the surrounding areas.

“The greatest concern for spectators and athletes, aside from aesthetics, is probably fecal coliform/E-coli from all the sewage being dumped into the bay,” Hubbart says. “In addition to that, there are a myriad of other pollutants that might accompany trash.”

He is urging spectators and athletes to follow their instincts and to avoid drinking or consuming the water. “If the water looks, smells, feels bad, it probably is,” according to Hubbart. He also advises those travelling to Rio to see a doctor about possible recommended vaccinations, and to be prepared to filter water or drink bottled water. Hubbart can be reached by phone at 304.293.2472, or by email at Jason.Hubbart@mail.wvu.edu.

Julia Fraustino, an assistant professor in the WVU Reed College of Media, notes that international ticket sales for the Rio Olympics have been sluggish as compared to the sales for the 2012 London Olympics, possibly due to the issues and threats that have surrounded the lead up to Rio. Social media may also be a factor.

“With the massive rise in social media use for news and information in recent years, including during the 2012 Summer Games and particularly among Millennials, Olympics news and highlights are going to be increasingly sought and shared online,” Fraustino says. “NBC’s new moves to partner with social platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram to share limited Olympics video highlights will likely capture the attention of the many who spend hours online daily,” she adds. Fraustino can be reached by phone at 304.293.7005, or by email at jdfraustino@mail.wvu.edu.

However, diminished ticket sales combined with health and safety concerns may not have much effect according to Brad Humphreys, an economics professor in the WVU College of Business and Economics. His work finds that contrary to popular belief, the Olympics do not necessarily equate to widespread economic benefits for the host country. “Unfortunately, research suggests that the only winner in economic terms is the International Olympic Committee, who control the media broadcast rights fees and also earn substantial revenues from official Olympic sponsors,” Humphreys says.

Moreover, Humphreys’ research reveals that host countries bear the full cost of staging the games. “Large cost over-runs are the rule, not the exception,” says Humphreys. “Many previous hosts were left with substantial debt that took decades to pay off.”

Humphreys can be reached by phone at 304.293.7871, or email at brad.humphreys@mail.wvu.edu.

West Virginia University experts can provide commentary, insights and opinions on various news topics. Search for an expert by name, title, area of expertise, or college/school/department in the Experts Database at WVU Today.

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